It should come before speaking.

I’ve always struggled with this one. Speaking is just such an impulsive thing to do. It takes essentially no effort to do. Thinking, however, takes time. How is it possible to think before you speak without there being awkward pauses in between? It baffles me.

What do you have to think about before you speak?

  • Syntax: Do the words that I’m about to say make grammatical sense?
  • Meaning: Do the words that I’m about to say mean anything? 
  • What are the immediate consequences of what I’m about to say?
  • Is this the best way to phrase what I’m about to say?
  • What are the indirect consequences of what I’m about to say?

The first two are pretty much automatic. You can produce a grammatical sentence that has meaning without thinking at all in most cases.

The third one is a little more difficult. Still, it doesn’t take much thinking to know approximately how a person will respond to something you say.

The fourth one is much harder; there are a near-infinite number of possible sentences in the English language. How can you be sure that you’re about to use the perfect combination? How can you be sure that no better combination exists?

But the fifth one is the killer. That’s the one that I’ve always struggled with. How can you be sure that what you are about to say won’t come back to haunt you later? To know this, you need to know how likely it is that the person you are speaking to will repeat what you’ve said to other people. Then you need to know how all of those people will react to what you’ve said. To do this at all is exceedingly difficult, but to do it within the three seconds you have to respond to someone before an awkward silence is created? Madness.

It’s hard enough to think before you speak under optimal conditions, when your mood is in check. But what about when emotion gets involved? What if you’re angry with the person you’re talking to? Or what if you’re having a bad day? Or what if you’re really excited about something?

Emotion of any kind clouds your ability to think objectively about your situation. That’s how mistakes are made. That’s how people get hurt.

So here’s the story:

1. You need to think before you speak, or else people will get hurt.
2. It’s impossible to truly think before you speak. 

Which gives us:

3. People will always get hurt.

Normally I’d end a reflective blog like this with a final piece of advice. "Think before you speak" is the obvious thing to encourage you to do, but as I’ve said, that’s impossible. So here’s what I will say:

Be careful who you speak to. People with mutual friends can be great, but also very dangerous.

…Okay, this blog was really pessimistic. The next one will be happier, I promise.