I used to be a smart aleck. I suppose if there were a “Smart Assoholics” group I would have considered attending, but I never mustered the courage to look into it. Can you imagine calling and asking someone, “Can you tell me when the Smart Assoholics Group meets?” The members would either ignore you and or assume you were being a smart aleck for asking such a question.
I never officially went into smart aleck recovery, but I’ve more or less reformed my sarcastic ways. When someone says something unkind, the synapses in my brain may emit a fiery thought or two, but I try to use restraint before it erupts into a verbal explosion. In my youth I wasn’t as quick on my feet when the attack was directed at me, but if someone said something nasty to a friend or family member I could launch some zingers that could cut someone off at the knees.
Nearly 20 years ago (when wearing a bicycle helmet was more the exception than the rule) my daughter, Alicia, donned a helmet and pedaled off to junior high. Naturally some rude kid gave her a hard time about wearing it. My instant reaction was to say to the kid, “If I had your brain I wouldn’t worry about wearing a helmet either, but Alicia, unlike you, has something of value between her ears.” Now I just thought this. I didn’t say it. But if I’d seen that rotten kid that would probably have been the nicest thing I said to him.
Of course not all of my put downs were so mean-spirited. Some were more humorous than caustic. However, when I was in my 30s I enrolled in a World Religions class at Scottsdale Community College. I was especially interested in the chapter about Buddhism and decided to follow the example of employing “right speech” and keep the sarcasm at bay.
This was not easy for me. I had spent a lot of my life making smart aleck statements and my ability to emit witty retorts and I felt this skill was one of my finest attributes. However, I knew these comebacks created negative karma and I wanted to clean up my act. A great quote from Confucius helped inspire my new mode of speech.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
Here are a couple of helpful hints about “right speech” taken from the “Speak No Evil” chapter of my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.
•Don’t gossip about others. Think about the effect your words can have before they leave your mouth. Before you speak, imagine the person you are talking about is standing right next to you listening to what you have to say. If you wouldn’t have the courage to say it to their face, or would be embarrassed for them to hear your opinion, don’t say it.
•Be mindful of your intention when you speak or act. Ask yourself if your intention is to be kind or mean. Before you say something, imagine someone said the same thing about you. Would you find this information helpful or hurtful? If you wouldn’t feel good hearing it, they probably won’t either. However, if there is something important that needs to be said, try communicating in a compassionate, not authoritarian, manner.
Sometimes it helps to use the “erase and replace” method. Take the offending word, thought or action and replace it with something kinder. This will take some resolve and some ingenuity, but you can do it. Anyone can flip a bird at a rude driver. That’s an automatic response. Why not use the situation as an opportunity to curse in pig latin?
Here’s another example. One day while my spouse, CB, and I were on a walk, we stepped in doggy do. Rather than get angry and yell the four letter word that instantly comes to mind, we tried to think of how many synonyms we could come up with to substitute for the word sh**. We came up with 16 (without the aid of a thesaurus). More importantly, we started laughing and enjoyed the rest of our walk .
Which brings me back to the present. Not gossiping and using diplomacy are two methods of “right speech” that I’ve worked hard to incorporate into my life. However, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to totally eliminate my clever responses. Not one to concede defeat easily, I put on my thinking cap and came up with a solution. I save my witty repartee and use it as snappy dialogue for the characters in my screenplays.
And a funny thing happened. My efforts have paid off. My scripts have won several awards and I’ve received a lot of praise for my clever dialogue. However, if you ask folks who know me what words they want to hear the most from me, they will tell you words of kindness. Not one person has asked me to go back to being a smart aleck.
I guess Mignon McLauglin’s quote says it best. “Don't be yourself - be someone a little nicer.”