I recently observed a woman at a liquor store in Moab, Utah. I didn’t mean to, it just happened. She may have been my age, but it was hard to tell because she was dressed all ‘back-packy’ like she’d been on the road for a long time and hadn’t had time to wash the trail dust and grime from her face and clothes. She could have been older, or younger (I’d be a miserable ID checker at a bar). Her hair was dreadlocked, with a few dreads hanging down the side of her face, having been unlocked along the way from wherever she came from to here.
While her appearance was noticeable, that wasn’t what got my attention initially. In fact, I hadn’t seen her until I heard her. It wasn’t something distinctive about her voice. Her voice was normal. It was the frequency. From the time she walked into the store with an older, bearded and paunchy man who was just as dusty, but not as fit, every (and I do mean every) thought she had, she expressed to him (and the store), out loud.
She reminded me of an in-person tweet.
My first reaction was to say to myself, “why don’t people just shut up more often?” Then I thought, that’s not fair – she’s just doing what she does which, evidently, works for her. It got her this far as least, and that didn’t look to me like it had been easy.
I don’t say much, but I’m not that much different from her (dreadlocks aside). I always have something to say, some thought to express or some opinion to share. I could easily be one of those talk show or sports radio know-it-alls, or a real-life tweeter like Moab lady, expressing my opinion on every issue, loudly if necessary (do they do that to feign authority, or is it a lack of confidence mechanism? – I wonder).
I could easily be the Moab lady, or anyone in your life who reminds you of her.
But I’m not.
Developing My Sump
The reason is that I taught myself a long time ago to SHUT UP. I don’t remember how, or exactly when, but at some point in my adult life, I became self-aware enough to acknowledge that the first thought I had, or maybe even the first few thoughts – or possibly all of my thoughts – might not be appropriate, valuable or tweet worthy. My thought just might not be worth the effort of your ears or the space in the room that it would occupy if verbalized.
In response to this awareness, I created my SHUT-UP Mike Process (SUMP), which essentially got me into the habit of telling myself to Shut UP when I had the urge to blurt out an unthought thought. Before creating this process, spontaneous ‘blurt outs’ had come to me naturally, like saying Amen at the end of a prayer. After I implemented and got used to using SUMP, the frequency of my ignorant, or at the very least unhelpful, blurt-outs fell. In other words, it worked. Telling myself to Shut Up has saved me from wasting a lot of other people’s time, from damaging relationships I had no intention to damage and from escalating situations that didn’t need escalation. It’s also helped me keep my naturally inclined cynicism, something I used ‘creatively’ (I thought, wrongly) as a kid and young man, in check – where it belongs.
Having taught myself to practice SUMP has helped me grow as a listener, leader and influencer. It’s trained me to be patient and to avoid offering an unfiltered or flat out ignorant response, at least most of the time. I still screw up too often.
To me, words matter. They have an impact. The fewer the better, generally. I want mine to matter. Not to be the most important (hah, unlikely), but to contribute, to be accretive. To be welcome, rather than merely heard.
It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s just that I’m working what I have to say through my SUMP. It’ll usually lead to a response that is measured, genuine and thoughtful. And if it doesn’t, just tell me to Shut Up.
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