Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When Holding Your Tongue Won't Cut It

You know, I seem to be getting older. And interestingly, the people in my life who are older than me are getting even older than I am. This is perhaps a beneficial coincidence as I am able to learn some lessons about aging through observation.

Here's one I've noticed over the years. Old people seem to lose their tact. They wear their feelings on their sleeves. In their younger years, they might have thought that new dress of yours was gaudy and too short, but they smiled, complimented you on your figure, and kept their true feelings well hidden. But as they age, they seem to lose some of this ability to hide the opinions that they know may not be well-received . . . either that or they just stop giving a hoot.

I noticed this some even in my mom as she aged. And those of you who knew my mom know she was about as sweet as sweet could ever come. Always kind, always accommodating , the queen of if-you-can't-say-something-nice-don't-say-anything-at-all. Yet, even my ultra-agreeable mother, in her later years, seemed to have trouble keeping her real feelings under wraps at times.

"Oh, you wanted to eat out tonight? Well, I suppose that's fine. I had thought I might make that chicken casserole I was telling you about -- I got the ingredients for it when I was out the other day -- but we don't need to have that, I suppose. Eating out is just fine if that's what you want." If you didn't know my mom, you'd think she was being manipulative, passive aggressive. And in someone less well-trained in sweetness than my mom, it may have come out active aggressive. "Eat out? What the h-- for?? I got food right here!!"

It's very striking to me to see people who I know have spent all their lives trying to be kind to others suddenly become downright cantankerous. You would never have dreamed it of them. THEY would never have dreamed it of them. Like I said, some of them probably have just stopped caring what anyone thinks, but many of them I'm afraid would be mortified if they realized how they come across.

I see this as a warning: if I don't want to slip someday and, say, tell a friend that they married a loser, I'd better learn to see that spouse as not such a loser -- for real. It's not enough to learn to control my tongue. My tongue will eventually betray my heart . . . probably long before I'm an old woman. Better to focus on changing my heart. That's where I'm supposed to be focused anyway.

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