I was in a restaurant the other day and a little boy, around 6 years old, was giving his mother a very hard time. She was getting more and more frustrated. He said something to her that she obviously didn’t like, and she responded in a loud voice, “Watch your mouth!” She peppered her statements with a few choice words that I cannot repeat here in my blog, but suffice to say that she probably wasn’t watching her own mouth very well at that point!
What does “watch your mouth” mean? Most of the time when someone (usually a parent or teacher) says it to us, it is because they think we are back-talking to them, or we are using swear words or other less respectful terms. They are warning us that if we keep going, we will likely find ourselves in some sort of trouble!
Who hasn’t had the situation where they wished they had “watched their mouth” a little more closely? We’ve all said things in anger, in frustration and in jest that we wish we hadn’t. In doing this work and spending time in Interested Observer mode, it can be very beneficial to watch your mouth. I’ve been doing it all week since the restaurant incident, and I’m amazed at how I sometimes talk to the people who are closest to me. I asked something of my husband and made my request in an exasperated tone. I asked one of my children to do something and when they didn’t respond right away, I raised my voice and accused them of not listening to me. I even found myself expressing frustration on the phone with my sweet mother, because I needed to go and she wanted to talk to me.
It was very eye-opening for me to watch not just the words coming out of my mouth, but also the tone and approach I sometimes used. It didn’t happen very often but the times that it did, I felt a degree of shame that my mouth could be used for something so hurtful! It was not until I again made a conscious decision to pay attention – really pay attention – that I caught myself talking in ways that were not respectful to my closest family members.
We know that words can hurt, but we sometimes overlook the fact that our tone of voice, and our approach with others, can be even more hurtful than the words we use. If I ask my husband, “Did you make that call to the bank?” and use an inquisitive and interested tone, he will hear it one way. If I ask him the same question in an accusing and disrespectful manner, he will hear it quite another. We may focus on our words – “watching our mouth” to avoid bad language, for example – but do we watch the way we deliver our words to others?
The woman yelling at her son probably felt quite frustrated – and even justified in her approach. The problem is that she was setting an example and showing her son how unimportant he really was at that moment in time. Watching our mouth and hearing how we are coming across can be beneficial at any time with anyone.
Try this week to listen to what you say, and the manner in which you say it. Watch your mouth and see what it tells you!