Years ago when we lived in a little town, we had a good friend who told us a great foot-in-mouth story. Some mutual friends of ours were having a baby. The first time my friend saw this little girl, he said to the dad, “Well, Joe, she doesn’t look anything like you!” The room got quiet, and my friend wondered why everyone suddenly seemed uncomfortable. Someone reminded him later that this couple had been briefly separated and shortly after they got back together, she announced she was pregnant. In that little town, where everyone knows everyone else’s business, people were doing the math in their heads to see if it was possible that they had conceived that baby after they got back together. My friend had forgotten about all of that, and he felt horrible. But there was no way to un-say it. I am happy to tell you that the couple in question is still married, and I did their daughter’s wedding a few years ago. I also must confess that I have many, many stories in which I put my own foot in my own mouth, but they are all so embarrassing, I chose to throw my friend under the bus. At least I didn’t use his real name!
We all have foot-in-mouth stories. We all say things we later regret. This happens in particular times: When we try to be funny, like my friend. I have told my son, who will be entering middle school next year, “It’s far better at your age to never try to be funny. Just let funny happen on its own.” If all middle school boys took that advice, the world would be a better place. Actually, that may be pretty good advice for all of us. When we offer opinions that aren’t backed up by knowledge, we embarrass ourselves as well. When we share juicy information we just heard, we destroy the reputations of others, and often are the willing transmitters of falsehoods. In plain English, that makes us liars. When we “blow up.” We all have stories of times we spoke in a blind rage. Very few of those stories are funny. Many of them created wounds that have never fully healed. Some destroyed relationships forever. When we complain. At another church, a woman was very upset about not being able to get in touch with a lady who was on our staff. I said, “Oh, she’s on vacation. She’ll be back next week.” The woman grunted and said, “Must be nice!” The thought that passed through my head was, “Woman, you’re retired. Your whole life is a vacation!” Thank God, I didn’t say it. If blowing up is the nuclear warhead of bad speech, then complaining is the toxic waste. It usually doesn’t hurt anyone directly, but it just builds up and poisons the atmosphere.