Once a word leaves your mouth, you cannot chase it back even with the swiftest horse. – Chinese Proverbs
What does that mean?
To me, the quote is saying that something that is said, cannot be un-said. If you say it, type it, post it, e-mail it or even think it too loudly, the deed is done. There is no un-delete feature, no save-game from a few moments ago, no undo button to click on.
Horses were the best they had back then, and that wasn’t fast enough. Today, oops can happen at the speed of light (the speed electronic information moves at, at least until it hits the next server).
The quote warns us to carefully weigh what we are about to say and to make sure we say what we mean. There is always a possibility that what is said will be misunderstood, but that chance goes up dramatically if we are not careful.
Why is patience in communication important?
In this context, a quickly said (and poorly thought) word can be said in an instant, but is out forever. Weather done in person or on Facebook, Twitter or other Computer based forms of miss-communication, once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. A word said in anger or haste can haunt you for years. Even if it was meant in jest, anything can be taken the wrong way under certain circumstances.
Have you ever let a poorly thought out word escape your lips? What were the results? A tantrum, crying, a lost friendship, hard feelings that took a lot of work to soothe? Perhaps a fist fight? More than one of the above, or all of them (hopefully at different times)?
Where can I apply this in my life?
Do you argue quite a bit? Get hot under the collar? Perhaps you can recall a time (or two) in the last month when your mouth had gotten you into trouble. What I did to help with this “instant feedback” situation was to take a deep breath and say what I want to say in my head a few times, and trying to evaluate the words for appropriateness and tact.
One of the classic jokes is what should the guy say when the girl asks “does this dress make me look fat?” Besides being a classic Catch-22 situation, it is an easily understood example of a situation where some thought should be given to the answer.
Perhaps you (or someone you know) is tact challenged. Often (at least with most Engineers I know) it’s a congenital defect, and not easily cured. If you are lucky, the problem is a lack of sympathy/empathy/compassion, which can be overcome with some effort.
Another method to try the “take a deep breath” trick, but use the time while you are taking that breath to imagine how the response in your head would sound to the other person. What could they misinterpret or misunderstand? How could you make your meaning more clear or less offensive?
Sometimes, I can be a bit of a smart-alack, which can be a bit annoying in circumstances. I have been working on this in a similar manner, and try to slow the automatic response and apply some brainpower to the response before opening my mouth.
Unfortunately, this is a conscious competence solution, so it only works when you think to do it. I’m still working on an automatic solution, but will likely do best to habituate the “deep breath” strategy, the “pause and reflect” strategy, or whatever works the best for you.
Have patience. Think twice, speak once. Start brain before engaging mouth. They are all standard clichés, but they are also very true. You may need to try a few times before you find something that works well for you, but I believe it will be worth the effort.