Posts Tagged ‘keeping your mouth shut’

The Comeback Kid: Not Taking the Bait

October 7, 2015

Of course, everywhere and throughout the ages, humanity has been plagued with a particularly insufferable expression commonly identified as the know-it-all, but I believe that Washington DC has the market cornered on this particular phenotype. Nowhere is it likely to find the convergence of ambition, smarts, education, and insecurity that one stumbles across along Mass Ave, 17th or K Streets. Words such as pedantic, bloviating, and ridiculous spring easily to mind when dragooned into the Purgatory that can occur when attending a quasi-academic evening lecture in this town. The fact that know-it-alls are exasperating isn’t news to you or me, but my reaction points to just how much additional re-booting work I’ve left to do…

Case in point: last night, in an effort to diversify my social circles and possibly learn a thing or two, I trooped downtown to hear a lecture on US-China relations given by a former CIA guy. The crowd was not glittery but respectable—that usual Washington crowd consisting of slightly smelly reporters, earnest graduate students, and several elderly types who pretended they were there because they are so engaged with world events but who were really drawn by the promise of free food and wine. Overall, it seemed to me, it was a civilized affair that is until…

Somehow, I found myself talking to one of the free food guys who felt a need to impress upon me his lifelong passion and dedication to social and cultural justice. Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was hitting a saturation point of hearing too many similar speeches or running across too many people in love with their own moral superiority, but once this fellow (who wasn’t a day under sixty) explained to me, “When I was five, I asked my parents why China wasn’t sufficiently represented in the United Nations.” It was at this moment when I had HAD ENOUGH.

“Really?” I said. “You actually asked your parents this when you were five years old?”

“I did.”

“You were concerned about China’s place in the world?”

“Of course.”

“Hmm. I didn’t think about such things when I was five.”

The conversation went downhill from there. I expect he was sorely surprised and disappointed that I didn’t fall to my knees in admiration. Too bad allure didn’t work it’s magic—in this particular instance.

Now, here’s where the re-booting portion of today’s post comes in: I shouldn’t have taken the bait. I should’ve known enough and exercised sufficient discipline not to have allowed myself to get annoyed by this dingdong, let alone wasted the breath to challenge him on such matters. My doing so did not enhance our interaction and only resulted in both of us feeling significantly annoyed. In my defense, I will say that it is extremely hard to remain placid while tidal waves of bullshit crash onto my shores, but this is something a re-booter needs to master. The truth of the matter is, blowhards and annoying people will always surround us—whether at evening lectures or the workplace or even our own families. They are here to stay. It all comes back to being in charge of my reactions and not letting bullshit irritate me the way it did last night.

I ought to have known enough to keep my mouth shut. Speaking up accomplished nothing constructive. He wasn’t going to educate me and I wasn’t going to educate him, so there was really no point at all in having a comeback. What a dumb, dumb kid.

So why do we do this? Why do we feel the need to make a rebuttal in the face of such hopelessly irritating circumstances?

Growing up in a highly verbal and literary family, I fell in love with words (and advocacy) early. It was our currency; in fact, the adults used to call it “word salad.” What “word salad” means is you toss the words up into the (proverbial) air and see where they land, whether they hit their mark, that sort of thing. The faster and harder you could do it, the better. Looking back, I see now that such a philosophy may not be the best (although it trains one to make wonderful banter) because you’re not just exchanging words, you’re exchanging the energy behind the words. And that energy isn’t always helpful. Like last night, with Mr. Social Concern.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while not everyone feels compelled to talk or to meet point with counter point, it is the sign of an accomplished re-booter to recognize and respect when circumstances are better served to remain MUTE—even when the person opposite has been infected with a case of verbal diarrhea. But my point goes beyond this because it’s not simply a matter of discipline, even more importantly it’s getting to a place where their behavior doesn’t provoke me. That’s just them being them.

Know-it-alls are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this re-booting challenge. This principle applies for any quirk that raises your hackles. I face the same challenge in learning to manage my reaction to my father’s all to frequent tendency to talk as if he were a baby—HUGELY ANNOYING. Be grateful you don’t have that one on your plate…

When have you learned to ignore the behaviors of others to the point that they no longer irk you? Where do you continue to need some work in this department?

My pledge to you, my fellow re-booters, is that the next time I go to any sort of lecture event, I will be a model of beatific and passive politeness to all who wish to expound upon their prodigious brilliance and sensitivity. Peace be unto you.

Charlie Brown

5 Simple Rules to Keeping the Peace: A Re-booting Refresher

February 26, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I’ve crossed paths with more than my fair share of busybodies and they can cause a LOT of trouble! Personally, I like to call these folks “air traffic controllers” because their biggest goal in life is to hold vigil in their Tower of Infallibility 24/7, ordering people around. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY! You know the sort of person who tries to get you to say or do something that’s bound to cause trouble? Know anyone like that? Here are some examples in case you find yourself drawing a blank. “Hey, Monica, don’t bother getting that dress cleaned, it makes you look fat.” “Honey, why don’t you tell your brother that in addition to being fat, he needs to get sober. Don’t forget to add that she’s a saint for putting up with him.” “I was thinking that that pathetic woman down the street would benefit from a visit; showing you care by asking intrusive questions about her health is just what she needs. It doesn’t matter that she barely knows you.” Oh really? If it’s such a good idea, why don’t YOU do it?


Have you gotten embroiled in one of their cockamamie schemes? If so, I’m sorry. By my guess, you have the bite marks on your back to prove it was ill advised. If you haven’t, well you’re one wily survivor… Full confession: I have had my moments of being a bossy pants myself. While by nature I’m prone to having opinions, what I have learned over the years is to cultivate less and less curiosity about what it is other people are doing or why they are doing it. The way I see it, wondering simply invites opinions and opinions demand to be expressed. BAD IDEA. So, to help you avoid this trap, I am presenting five handy dandy rules for the sage re-booter.


Rule # 1: Nobody wants to hear your opinion. About anything. Ever.


Need I say more?


Rule #2: Don’t make it your business.


For someone who enjoys people watching as much as I, and for whom the human psyche is endlessly fascinating, learning to ratchet down my curiosity is no small task. But ratchet I have. If it’s not your business, it’s not your problem, If it’s not your problem, you don’t need to solve it. Keep your big honkin’ schnoz out of it. You can’t really know what’s fully going on, so just stay out!


Rule #3: Keep your helpful suggestions to yourself.


Even if you have the best intentions in the world (which you probably don’t), if you aren’t a marquee player in the drama, exit stage left or risk dropping through the trap door. Don’t add your two cents! All you wind up doing is stirring the pot–this compounds exponentially if you’re some form of an in-law weighing in. For the love of all that is right and good in the world, zip your trap. Just zip it!


Rule #4: Run for cover if you are recruited.


I don’t care if they come to you. I don’t care if they plead with their big, weepy eyes and claim they want your advice. I don’t care if you feel sympathetic. Don’t fall for their line that, “this is just between us.” This is a Trojan Horse. They have targeted you for their own purposes. Remind yourself that these people are adults (at least in theory); they have the tools and responsibility to figure this out on their own. Back away slowly. Do not answer your phone. Do not text back. Become mysteriously unavailable.


Rule #5: Nobody will thank you.


Most of the time, these dramas will blow over, but in the midst of things, it can feel like a locomotive bearing down. It matters not whether the combatants scream and carry on or behave more like giant icebergs, freezing cold in their icy disdain. This is between them. This is about them. It is not about you. You cannot, repeat, cannot do anything about it—even if what’s going on impacts you. Even if you feel sad. You are not the Grand Negotiator. Remind yourself that nobody can ever fully understand the dynamics between two other people, no matter how much you know or think you know. I’ve seen a lot of people make the mistaken assumption that they fully understood what was going on, naively believing they were able to build a bridge to peace or apportion blame. Please don’t do this. Please don’t make this error. See Rules #1-4.


Of course, nobody likes to feel helpless. It’s hard to watch people we care about struggle while we stand by, feeling impotent. But that’s what we are. We cannot fix it for them. They have to do this themselves. What re-booters can do is offer gentle, non specific, non inflammatory support. But leave it at that.

Linda Tripp



Don’t Make it Your Business!

May 2, 2013

How many times—just this year alone—have you opened your big fat mouth and weighed in on something that, really, had nothing to do with you? Even one is too many! Re-booters understand the tantalizing temptation to speak up and share our wisdom or our righteous indignation with others, only to discover that, Oooof! Perhaps we missed some relevant details or maybe we’re not as wise as we believed or (most likely at all) nobody cares what we think.  Plus, there’s always the unpleasant aftermath of wading into waters where we really needn’t go. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Everybody does this. The trick, of course, is to learn to stop. Why go there? Is it really going to help matters? Or does letting your thoughts be known merely provide a visceral satisfaction to you? I know whereof I speak, my friends. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and got my ass kicked along the way.

It just ain’t worth it.

Now, in previous posts, I have explored variations of this theme: the inadvisability of making an event or issue about you, etc etc. But, today, I am focusing in on matters that we know are not about us, and yet the urge to “participate” is ohsogreat. Know what I mean? It’s sorta like an itch; you become aware of something and then start to think about it. The urge grows; it becomes stronger, and sooner than we succumb to the itch.

Relax, breathe deeply.

Ok, so one of the core competencies of a successful Re-booter is mastering the art of keeping one’s mouth shut. Whether it’s as minor as inserting oneself into details related to who goes where and how they get there to the fiery finger-pointing associated with the break up of a long term relationship—stay out of it! Unless you are a marquis player, step aside. Otherwise, at least in my observation, things devolve to a point where you are caught up in a liturgical drama that promises no salvation whatsoever. We’ve already survived seventh grade once, why voluntarily go back? Do you get me? Capiche? Zip the mouthpiece.

As re-booters, we have all made our fair share of mistakes in this particular circus ring. It’s understandable because it’s so human. But we Re-booters can learn from our mistakes and rise above the temptation to let those around us know what’s what. In fact, when you think about this sort of hard-won knowledge and the ongoing, active self-discipline required to refrain from sharing our thoughts, I suppose it is a salvation. How much more secure and at peace I feel when I know I have not stepped into the fighting ring and have simply let others work things out themselves. It may not be as much fun to watch on the sidelines, but embracing this lesson and allowing people to negotiate their lives—and their frustrations–as they choose allows Re-booters to focus on more important things.

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