Norton: Thinking before speaking

There is a time and place for pithy remarks, sarcasm and even bad jokes. OK, well maybe there is never a good time for bad jokes, but pithy remarks and sarcasm, absolutely.

The world has been dealing us some very serious situations. There are many among us who deal with serious situations through humor. Whether we are trying to mask our own fears or concerns, and/or we are trying to lighten a mood for others around us, the smart play is to read the room first. Many a poorly timed great joke or spontaneous one-liner has been met with incredulity and awkward silence.

Many of us have found ourselves apologizing once we realized the impact that our comment or joke had on those around us. Having been that person who carelessly and thoughtlessly made a bad choice of words, and did so more than once, I know firsthand what it feels like to wish I could immediately take back what I had said.

Now I am not referring to political correctness where some of us get easily offended by the slightest offhanded remark or jab. I will reserve that for another column. What I am referring to here is having situational awareness and sensitivity to what is going on around us at any given moment.

In our haste, we may think that something is incredibly funny or harmless when it first pops into our head, not pausing to try and appreciate how it will be received by others. Even when we have the very best of intentions, poor timing coupled with even worse content, could end up as a complete misfire.

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You may feel like this is common sense. Maybe it is, but let’s also remember that common sense isn’t always common practice. Again, learning this the hard way, I have taught myself to apply the 30-second rule. Instead of focusing on being quick with a joke or punchline, I hesitate to make sure that what I am about to say wouldn’t be insulting or hurtful to those around me.

By the way, there is a difference between being offended and being insulted or hurt. If we were to worry about offending others each time we spoke, well we just might not speak at all anymore. We could all use a little adjustment to our offended meter, recognizing that all our differences and differences of opinion are what keep things fun and interesting. Just imagine if we all thought the same, looked the same, acted the same in every situation — how boring would that be?

Insulting or hurting others through our words is something completely different. It’s one thing if our poorly timed attempt at humor, lightening the mood, or trying to comfort someone else is done with the very best of intentions and falls flat. When that is the case, we can fix it by practicing the 30-second rule, pausing before we speak. However, when we know that what we are about to say could potentially be a mic drop moment for all the wrong reasons, that is when it becomes a problem.

Situational awareness coupled with proper etiquette is always seen as an elegant solution. I think we still live in a country that honors free speech. Although our speech may be, it is incumbent upon as humans who coexist with one another to think before we speak, especially in moments where we have a knee-jerk reaction to shoot from the hip. And to increase our chances of providing an elegant solution and speaking the right words at the right time, maybe we can build or rebuild our own go-to word bank filled with words such as kindness, gentleness, grace, compassion, comfort, love and forgiveness.

Have you experienced a poorly timed joke or note of sarcasm? Have you ever uttered words at the wrong moment that you wish you could take back? I would love to hear your story at and when we can remember to pause and think before we speak, it really will be a better than good year.

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