Pause…Then Speak

23 07 2013

ThinkIf I were given the chance to relive my high school years, I would do things differently.  Most of us would.  I’d have taken college prep courses in the early years.  I’d have played baseball—something I’ve always loved and possessed a measure of talent for.  I would have taken up a band instrument or choir, in addition to guitar.

And I’d have joined the debate club.

A friend of mine who was involved in high school debate once told me of a technique he’d learned in debate, one that has helped him throughout his adult life.  It is the practice of taking ten, twenty, perhaps thirty seconds or more to respond to a question or a challenge.  He’d preface his pause by saying, “Give me a second to collect my thoughts.”

In other words, think before you speak.

This is a profoundly wise behavior, not just for debate society but for conversation, especially when there is conflict involved.

We’ve discussed the dangers of simplistic thinking on this blog previously.  A lot of simplistic thinking discloses itself when people answer a challenge too quickly.  We saw a good example of this last year during the 2012 Presidential campaign when Democrat pundit Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney—wife of Republican candidate Gov. Mitt Romney and mother of five—had never worked a day in her life.

This was an unfortunate utterance, disrespectful of mothers all over the country, if not the world.  Within a day, Rosen apologized.  The Obama White House distanced itself from her comments.

In fairness to Ms. Rosen, I’m sure she meant to say that Ann Romney had not been a part of the female workforce outside the home.  I doubt very much she wished to insult moms.  Hilary Rosen is Jewish.  If you know Jewish mothers, you know that they enjoy a long history as diligent homemakers, some of the finest in the world.  I bet her own mother was hard-working.

I suspect her point was that the fate of female workers outside the home has become increasingly distressed under the present sagging economy and that Mrs. Romney didn’t have the field experience to opine with authority the way another lady, who’d made her living in the workforce, could.  Indeed, 92% of jobs lost under President Obama’s watch were filled by women.  And that is a problem.

The point here is that a lot of unnecessary drama ensued that needn’t have if things were articulated more carefully, more precisely, with less haste—sound-byte exigencies notwithstanding.  And which of us has not made the same mistake?  One of the things my college rhetoric professor cautioned us against were “gleaming generalities.”  You’re almost certainly headed for deep water if you’re in the habit of using sweeping statements like “never,” and “always.”

It is wiser to understate your case.  “It seems that….”  “It appears to be the case that….”  “The evidence suggests….”  You get the idea.  Hyperbole ought to be used sparingly.

But even better is to stop….think…let people squirm if they must, while you frame your statement.  Then answer.

Life will be a whole lot less hectic and dramatic.

And that is something all of us would like.

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