Do you hear the alarms going off?

“A guilty conscious is a faults alarm.” – from the Graffiti cartoon

It’s amazing how many cartoonists also turn out to be pretty good philosophers. Most of them occasionally use the simplistic characters and story lines of their cartoons to explore some very weighty moral issues or to make moral points. There was great advice for life to be found in the fun that was drawn in Pogo, or Peanuts, or Calvin and Hobbs. The Graffiti cartoon uses only words (as they might be written or sprayed on a wall) and they are used sparingly; however, it often hits a moral issue or judgement dead-on. The brevity and cleverness of the little sayings of Graffiti often makes you stop and think. Sometimes you have to decipher and expand the little saying to understand its meaning, but there is always meaning.

whining childToday’s little saying makes the case that our faults often result in having second thoughts, remorse or regret later for something that we’ve said or did. The fault is obvious – not being enough in control of ourselves to stop the remark or action before it occurs. Does that happen to you? I know that I have a tendency to sometimes blurt out things, either in judgement of someone or something or in reaction to something or someone’s remarks to us. Yes, I hear the alarms and realize that they go off all too often.

Sometimes the “fault” might actually be found in not saying or doing something when the situation requires it. Lowering your eyes or turning your head to avoid eye contact in situations when the right thing to do is to push back or challenge or rebut are also faults that also leads to a guilty conscious. Not standingtimid up and helping the kid that is being bullied is just about as bad as being the bully himself. Not pushing back and sticking up for yourself when being bullied is also wrong. Letting the boss or the co-worker continue to get away with inappropriate behavior that makes you feel bad or insecure or even frightened, is not “going along to get along”; it is just another wrong and only adds to the problem. You may say, “It’s not my fault; however the fault of not doing something about those things that you know are wrong is yours and yours alone.  Is that a nagging little alarm going off in the back of your mind?

The point of all this isn’t to send you into a weekend with a guilty conscious; but maybe to suggest that you listen to those little alarms that go off in your head, often in “real-time”, as the incident is occurring. Rather than reflect alarmlater on the faults that may have allowed you to act or react badly. Listen to the alarms as they start going off in your mind and pause to think before you act or react, before you blurt out a response or hit the send key on that flamming email. If the alarms going off are telling you that you’ll regret this action later, don’t do it.

That’s a tall order for anyone and requires a self-control that few have naturally. It starts by realizing and admitting to yourself that you have that tendency, to go off half-cocked or with only half of the story or that you sometimes act too hastily and get yourself into trouble or make the situation worse that it was. Think back on situations or incidents where you didn’t exercise that control and ask yourself why you did or said what you said and why you regretted it. Perhaps that will serve as motivation to develop a new personal habit to stop and think before you react – whether it’s stop and count to ten or to bite your tongue. Both of those pieces of “folk advice” are essentially artificial and mechanical ways to just get you to stop and think before you act.

If you can get yourself into the habit of stopping and asking yourself a few quick questions, such as – Do I understand what just happened and why? Why do I feel a need act or react? Do I have enough information to make a wise decision about what to do or say?   Is what I’m about to do or say likely to resolve the issue at hand, calm the issue at hand or make the issue at hand worse?  While that seems like a lot to think about whenthinking woman you read it here it really takes only a few seconds of thought time and could save many hours of remorse later. Snap judgements and the actions that we take based upon them are wrong all too often. Stop and think. You’ll make fewer mistakes and have less to regret later. It will also be much less noisy in your mind, with fewer alarms going off.

Have a great weekend. Practice your new habit of stopping and thinking before you act and that will help you when you  get back to the more hectic work world.

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