Adonai, set a guard over my mouth, a watch at the door of my lips. (141:3)
Considering all bad habits, the compulsive desire to get in the last word is a tough one to break. It is rooted in a desire to win. The combative spirit bursts forth upon spotting the chance to raise oneself up by correcting, chastising or further clarifying.
Communication ought not be a competitive sport, but even a cursory glance at the comments below published articles often reveals a high level of belligerent language. The character of “Topper” in Dilbert is that guy you avoid speaking to, with his unbelievable ability to turn every statement into a soliloquy about himself.
You say, “I’ve been reading this great book called ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and I’m thinking that most of the misfortune that people experience in their life is connected to their poor choices. What do you think?”
He responds, “Absolutely right, I’ve made great choices and that’s why I just got a promotion, and in my spare time I’ve been writing my own self-help book which will help you get our of the rut you’re in.”
Or the response to “I just got a new dog and I finally trained him to stop peeing in my slippers!” is “Great, my dog barks once when he needs to do #1, twice for #2, and three times when he wants me to change the channel! He hates CNN – much prefers Fox News.”
And then there are the people who can talk in long, multi-page paragraphs without checking to see whether the listener is still listening. But even those of us who want to listen and show sincere interest in the other person find ourselves occasionally responding in ways that are more about our insecurities than about the other person’s needs.
The wise words of the Psalmist remind us that we ought to have a door at our lips that we should regularly close, or a least a filter which regulates how many of our words escape our mouths.