Tuesday, July 23, 2013

“Insert Foot”

"If you keep your mouth shut, you will never put your foot into it." Austin O'Malley

            I hate it when my observation skills dull, and I don’t notice the subtle signs during a conversation with someone that my words have somehow slipped into a sensitive zone. Usually, this occurs when my personal experience with the topic proves limited, and I begin with an incredulous statement like, “You’ve GOT to be kidding!”
As my sluggish mind tries to grasp a new concept, my mouth keeps going; and I inevitably say something that ticks someone off. I never intend to do this, of course. And because my thoughts slowly sift through this new information, I don’t notice the indications that my opinion counters the very personal interpretations of my listener. The slight intake of breath of the other person goes unobserved. I blunder onward, stupidly asking questions to clarify something which my conversation partner feels is obvious. I unwittingly say the perfectly wrong thing.
            By then, no matter how deeply into the zone of oblivion I’ve stumbled, my listener’s response pulls me to an awkward stop. I feel my eyes widen and my face redden as I try to determine which treacherous ideas or statements caused the response I belatedly notice. The other person’s lips purse tightly, and I can discern grinding teeth or a clenched jaw. This friend shifts with muscle tense, preparing for fight or flight.
            My brain races to rewind the conversation and determine where I first entered perilous ground. If I can discern that moment, I quickly offer an apology for unintentionally upsetting the other person, but the damage cannot undo itself. Sometimes, my thoughtless response goes beyond justification because it questioned a fundamental view of my conversation partner. Saying, “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know you’d get upset,” seems inadequate. When that happens, I simply veer the conversation quickly onto another topic, hoping desperately that my friend will graciously forgive me and kindly allow me to remove my foot.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


No comments:

Post a Comment