The Pause

red and yellow stop sticker
Photo by Linda Eller-Shein on

I’ve had to develop patience over the years. My instinct is to react to situations without thinking, allowing my emotions  to guide what I say and do. I had to learn to curb such tendencies when I became a wife, a mother, an educator. Letting my emotions range free without any filters was dangerous to the well being of those with whom I lived. Brutal honesty can hurt as much as a blow to gut. I had to practice using the art of the the pause which is why I recently kept a quote that found it’s way to my Facebook wall. It went something like this, “Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you are about to react harshly and you’ll avoiding saying things and doing things you’ll later regret.”

The advice is not particularly unique but it is certainly profound. If only we took the time to think before reacting we would avoid a world of pain and hurt and guilt. Who among us hasn’t made that comment that stung someone we loved or respected to the point of creating a wedge between us? How often have mental or physical harm been inflicted in the heat of a moment? Undoing such damage is almost always more difficult that taking that little breath, counting to ten, waiting until our anger subsides to deal more rationally with a  situation.

The biggest regrets that I have are all centered on hurtful utterances that I made in the heat of a moment, or accusations that I hurled without evidence. I have judged and assumed like everyone and even though I was sometimes perfectly justified, in most cases I would have been saved great misunderstandings if only I had stopped to get information before jumping to conclusions.

The worlds of social media tempt us to strike out against people and ideas that offend us without pausing to consider whether voicing our opinions is of any positive use. There is more than enough ugliness and bullying without contributing more. What does it really matter if someone has an opinion different from our own? Why do we feel compelled to insert our own feelings? Do we really believe that we are going to change minds?

I have to admit that I often lose control and type in responses that I know are meaningless to the people who will read them. They will stick to their ideas and mine will have no impact other than to anger them. I do damage to our relationship which in most cases is far more important than the differences that we have. I have had to remind myself again and again to stop before pressing the keys to my computer in a fit of anger. I’ve learned to use more discretion with my instinctual tendencies.

As a teacher I learned the importance of presuming innocence until guilt was proven. It was easy to think that a difficult child was the perpetrator of a classroom crime based simply on past infractions, but all too often quick judgement lead to conviction of an innocent. I was always happy when I gathered all of the facts before coming to a final judgement. It saved both me and my students many times over. I was sometimes accused of being too soft, too lenient, but in the end I was always fair.

My mother once described her bipolar disorder as a disease which caused her to say ugly things that she did not mean, but felt compelled to utter. I find it interesting that she saw her mental illness as the lack of an ability to pause before reacting. Perhaps her definition says something about our human tendency to let lose with our feelings without stopping to reign them in. Maybe when we forget to pause we are exhibiting a kind of irrationality that we should be able to curb unless we are afflicted with a disease of the brain.

Children naturally have outbursts until they eventually learn how to control themselves. We need to be as aware of our own thoughtless behaviors as my mother was. We have learned the niceties of human interaction and we need to practice using them more. If we were all to follow the simple advice of the quote that so resonated with me we might have far fewer misunderstandings. Curbing our anger is a worthy cause.

There are surely times when truth must be told and no feelings spared. There are causes worthy of our indignation, but we must learn to differentiate between occasions when our input may bring about positive change and when we are simply wasting our breaths on trivial matters. Learning when to react quickly and strongly and when to slow things down is a powerful lesson that we might all want to review. 


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