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Raising our kids, we always had a rule which I’ll bet you had—or have—as well: You mustn’t say, “Shut up.” It’s rude, bossy, and is as forbidden as cussing. When one of our kids would overhear someone saying it in a store or other public place, they would glance at me to see if my face registered the same shock as theirs. And I would shake my head in appropriate disappointment, confirming their suspicion that this was grossly out of line.
But I recently learned a way to actually use this phrase to improve myself. Let’s rename it “Zip it,” just so I don’t have to cringe every time I write it.
Last week someone paid a compliment to our daughter, Nicole. They said that when they speak to her, they notice she always takes a moment to pause and listen before responding.
“I’ve never done that in my life!” I said quickly, and we laughed. But laughter often results because something is true, right? And I do tend to jump in with a comment before mulling things over. (Have I ever mulled in my life?) It’s even worse when someone comes to me with a problem. Instead of taking a few minutes to validate their feelings, join them in their angst, and just be in the moment, I leap over all that and come up with half a dozen solutions. My friend may want to share for a bit before attacking the problem, but my brain is already storming.
In my defense, I generate ideas for a living. I lecture on creativity. It almost kills me to button it when I can think of a solution. And when someone brings me a “woe is me” situation, I want to say, “Woe is not you, if you’ll just implement these three strategies.” (See? I’m already making excuses for not zipping it!)
Let’s say someone tells me their mother-in-law criticized their parenting. My response? Ask her why she said that. Enlist your husband to back you up. Consider that she could be right. Shrug it off as her problem. Ask her what she would have done instead. Express the hurt you feel from her disapproval. Explain your reasons for what you did. Realize that some people are simply critical of everyone. Be glad you’re one to build up instead of tear down. Give yourself a reward every time she shoots a dagger at you. It’s as if an article on this is writing itself in my head, with 10 bullet points of advice.
I’m told this is a Man Trait, to want to solve a problem instead of just letting people vent and feel. And I know professional counselors say it’s better to help someone come up with their own solutions instead of prescribing what you already know may work. But there it is, my impatient tendency to resolve the issue. To me, it feels helpful (why wouldn’t someone appreciate all these solutions?) but I’m sure the better approach is to wait, listen, and simply Zip It.
So I’ve decided to silently think this to myself, and resist the urge to respond instantly. I’m also going to use Zip It in church classrooms, to keep from being the annoying little First Grader whose hand always shoots up with a comment about everything.
I’m going to Zip It when I am given poor service somewhere, rather than kidding myself that I’m actually helping a waiter or clerk learn to be more customer-friendly. I’m going to Zip It when someone says they want my advice but we both know they just want to complain and have no intention of implementing my—or anyone else’s—advice.
I’m going to Zip It when a family member expresses criticism about something I’ve done or do, and not feel I must correct or defend my intentions. They’ll feel more valued if I simply listen to how they feel about it, even if their truth doesn’t match mine. Once I’ve allowed them to open up and know their views are respected, they’ll be far more likely to consider my side of things.
Where else can we all Zip It? How about on social media, in traffic, and in everyday arguments about politics, movies, and social issues? This doesn’t mean you never express an opinion, but that you simply wait and consider before jumping into the fray. This more cautious, slow-to-react stance can even save our jobs—and marriages– in some cases. It can certainly save loved ones’ feelings, and can save us the chagrin of being wrong and having to retract a hasty evaluation. It can keep us from judging too quickly before we really have the facts. It can keep us from joining in when people are gossiping. What if we Zip It before offering a correction to our spouses? This “measure twice, cut once” method of slowing down can even help us expand our view, consider more options, and analyze more intelligently than if we leap to quick conclusions.
Will this be an easy change to make? Let me think about that (ha). Nope. It’s going to be very hard to change my stripes, but is it worth it? Of course; all self-improvement is worth the effort. And I can enlist those around me who care about my new goal, to remind me to slow down and take a breath before responding. In time I can make this a new habit, and one that will not only bring me peace and contentment, but which will allow room for inspiration—hellooo? How about that concept? – and even the kind of reflection that can grow into actual wisdom. Zipping It may not be easy, but I think it’s going to benefit me in the following ten ways. Just kidding. Seriously, I really do think it will make life richer and more empathetic. So if you see me suddenly fall silent, just know that I’m pausing to think and listen. Finally.