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Temporal Science of Shut Up

June 18, 2023

The word ‘temporal’ simply means “related to time”. There are multiple definitions, but that is the one I’m focused on in the following article. Everyone in the world knows HOW to shut up.

The thing that many often seem not to know is WHEN. I include myself in this group sometimes. I often don’t know when to shut up, but I’m learning constantly.

What made me think on this was a recent visit by our granddaughter, Little Miss. You might remember I wrote about her almost two years ago as we were anticipating her arrival. She arrived. We don’t see her as often as we would like, though now that my wife and I are retired we are somewhat more free to travel. It is still a long way forest to Pittsburgh so the trips are not frequent. A recent week we kept her for five days while her parents went on a vacation south.

Little Miss is her mother’s first child and her mother is older than many first-time mothers of this ‘modern’ era. She may have felt that her opportunity had passed her by so, like Abraham’s wife Sarah, she is in a constant state of joy and excitement. And hovering attendance. Sarah was 90 years old when she had her first child. Little Miss’ mother is quite a bit younger. But every bit as overjoyed. Mother and Miss are very attached. Little Miss is not as enthusiastic about her grandparents. Or many outside her mother and those who see her very frequently. There are theories and discussions about this between me and my wife, but we both are studied in the Temporal Science of Shut Up. We strictly apply HOW to WHEN pretty consistently.

John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, among many other titles, was a writer of epic poetry between 1632 and 1674. He was also author of a quote I like:

“The worst vice is advice” (emphasis mine)

Having three formerly-child adults, each grown and making their own way in the world, there might be a tendency to shower them with sage counsel from bags of wisdom accumulated over years and trials and successes. Etc. My wife and I work HARD to avoid that tendency. We keep our counsel to ourselves. Apply HOW to WHEN.

There is an exception to Milton’s wise observation, of course. It is when advice is solicited. In that case, gloves come off and truth is in order. Brutal or kind. I have felt from the time I was very young that the truth only hurts when you don’t want to hear it. If you don’t want to hear it, you should not ask for it. And if you are not asked, you should think long and hard before you offer it. Truth can be subjective. That is, subject to the opinion of those telling and those hearing. And that makes it a consideration for application of the Temporal Science of Shut Up. Meaning, of course, don’t offer unless asked. If asked, offer freely.

I have always felt that I would rather lose a friend for sharing a truth they need to hear than for withholding a truth they deserve to hear. If a friend’s child is out drinking or doing drugs, it is truly none of my business. News like that is not always welcome, but is that a time to shut up? Is it a WHEN? I have never been in that position, but I hope if I ever am that I will have the courage to take that risk and share that information. If I lose that friend, I can live with that if it prevents bigger problems. If my friend were to lose a child because I withheld that information, I’m not sure I could live with it and I believe my friend would have a legitimate complaint against me. Potentially lost friend in either case, but the cases are different. Problem of HOW and WHEN.

My adults are not carbon copies of me or my wife or the combination of the two of us. There are different politics represented, different approaches to child-rearing, diet, entertainment, lifestyle, employment choices, choices of friends, of religions, etc. My wife and I understand the WHEN of SHUT UP. Uninvited, we hold our thoughts. We discuss things with each other, but we never push or dicker or interfere. If they do not ask, we do not offer. If they don’t want to hear it, they should not ask. If we are asked, truth will be told.

I wrote before about the ‘What Would You Do’ television show where people are portrayed in contrived scenarios where the whole point of the situation is to see if people will speak up. At least one point of my article was that I fear that this show is going to cause someone grievous injury or even death. It is certainly courageous to speak up when there are life and death consequences but I always fear that something is going to happen that is NOT part of this television show and there are NOT people waiting in the wings to de-escalate a situation. People these days are armed and angry and on edge, able to find big provocations in the most trivial situations. If someone is being physically harmed or threatened or safety is at risk, there may be reason to not shut up. It is a judgment call. There is always 911. Fortunately it is not a common occurrence. A house on fire is a reason to speak up. To shout. Parenting or politics or religion or wardrobe or walking on the wrong side of the grocery store aisle rarely rise to that urgency. Not everyone knows when to shut up though. Not knowing the WHEN of SHUT UP can plop an unintended spark into a tinderbox or a log onto a fire. I am working to master the Temporal Science of Shut Up.

Next time will be about the Right of Shut Up.

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