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May 29—I turn 63 years old Sunday, but I still feel like I'm learning stuff.
My new philosophy is this: Mouth shut, ears wide open.
A case in point: I stumbled across a piece of advice recently that I think is golden. It was embedded in an article published in 2014 on Inc.com about emotional intelligence.
The advice was attributed to Craig Ferguson, a Scottish-born actor, author and talk-show host best known for hosting the CBS "Late Late Show" from 2005 to 2014. (Confession: I don't stay up late, much less late-late, so I've never seen the show.)
The advice consists of a three-question filter you should use before saying anything. Especially if it's something very direct that could be hurtful to another human being.
Before you say or write anything, Ferguson says you should ask yourself these three questions:
1. Does it need to be said?
2. Does it need to be said by me?
3. Does it need to be said by me right now?
There is deep wisdom in this three-step process.
In order to give yourself a green light, your comment should clear all three hurdles. It takes a minute, but it works.
I think this filter is especially important in the era of social media when people often post or share impulsive comments online. I found myself during the 2020 election season hiding Facebook friends who were all about spreading their politics. I just didn't care, plus I still wanted to like them when the election was over.
Too, I have come to believe, after years of self-reflection, that I can be a sharp-tongued know-it-all. I'm insecure enough to feel a little shiver of delight when I can deliver a piece of information that makes me sound smart (an impulse reinforced by 30 years as a columnist).
But let's break down Ferguson's three-part filter. Here's my interpretation.
Question No 1: Does your comment need to be said? For example, does it provide useful information or, at least, valuable food for thought? You may determine that your urge to say something does nobody any good.
If that red light flashes "stop" after question No. 1, by all means, can it.
The second question is more subtle. Sometimes something needs to be said, but you are the wrong person to deliver the message. A good example of this is correcting someone else's child. Don't do it. If you determine something needs to be said, tell the parent instead. Or if safety is not involved, just swallow the thought.
Question No. 3 is the secret sauce of successful living. Even if you are convinced a message needs to be delivered, and it needs to be said by you, ask yourself honestly: Can it wait?
Waiting has its own magic (and logic). If your comment is tinged with anger, it gives you time to cool off. More importantly, it gives you a chance to collect more information. Some of life's most embarrassing moments come when we pop off before seeing the whole picture.
One time I groused to a newspaper photographer friend who kept hounding me to have a new head shot taken.
"Can you please make it quick, I'm busy," I snapped at him hatefully.
I later found out he was taking the photo as a favor to my wife who needed it for the back cover of a book she was secretly having published in my honor.
Oops. Thinking about that still makes me cringe.
So look before you leap, and think before you speak.
And when in doubt, zip it.
Email Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.