Knowing When to Keep My Mouth Shut…

A couple recent exchanges reinforce, at least for me, the importance of knowing when to remain silent or, to put it another way, when to keep my mouth shut.

About a week ago:
“What are you going to do?” The Mother asked as I dragged the vacuum out of the closet.
That must be a trick question, I thought.
“I’m going to vacuum and mop the floors,” I replied, “somebody has to do it—the place is filthy.”
I didn’t need to add my commentary, which was not an innocent remark. The Mother heard my comment as an accusation and schooled me on all the things she does around the house and for the family.[1] Nobody enjoyed the subsequent exchange.[2]

The other night:
“What were you doing outside?” The Mother asked as I closed the door.
“I was bringing in the trashcan ….” I replied.
In the interstices between those dots I thought: “…because nobody else in this family seems to give a shit that the trashcan sits at the curb all day, or maybe you all just assume I’ll do it….” But I said nothing.[3]

In these cases, truth and reality help little in deciding whether or not to remain silent. Instead, civility and generosity seem more important.

It was true, the house was filthy and nobody was willing to clean it. We seemed to be playing that waiting game to see who would blink first. I blinked. So be it. I didn’t need to add any commentary. In reality, we probably weren’t playing any waiting game, except in my imagination. Rather than impute some iniquitous motives, why not assume the best. The Mother has a full life, as do I. We regularly divide domestic chores in a dynamic sort of ad hoc way. Her not having vacuumed was no more malicious than my having not vacuumed.

It was true, nobody seemed to give a shit that the trashcan sat at the curb. But was the can’s continued presence at the curb evidence of some injustice? Probably not. More likely, they simply hadn’t thought about it. Or maybe instead of bringing in the trashcan they did some other menial task around the house, relieving me of that chore. Or maybe they didn’t. I would have gained nothing by my snarky commentary. And in reality, they bear no more responsibility for bringing the trashcan than I do.

In a million little ways we all have these exchanges every day. Stray words tossed into a conversation, words that contribute little to the conversation itself but offer some catharsis usually at the listener’s expense. That’s just not nice. When speaking with The Mother, perhaps I could bring a little more generosity to the conversation. When speaking with #1 or with #2, I as the parent need to model generosity and civility. Maybe we would all be happier if, in general, both speaker and listener were a little more generous and tried a little harder to know when to keep our mouths shut.


  1. While I would argue that my comment was born more of general malaise and frustration and was not intended as an accusation, I totally understand The Mother’s response. I am sure I have reacted similarly.  ↩

  2. There are, I am sure, numerous examples of the mother letting my snarky comment go unchallenged. These have less effect on me so my intellectual blinders prevent me from recalling them.  ↩

  3. I don’t want to imply that I learned anything and am somehow now beyond making snippy comments. I am not so mature, alas.  ↩

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3 thoughts on “Knowing When to Keep My Mouth Shut…

  1. Those little things can be irritating. . . I try to think of ten other things I love about my husband rather than focusing on the one thing he did/didn’t do that irked me. Yeah. . . it works sometimes.

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