I picked up a little phrase in the Marine Corps to say whenever someone has missed the obvious and I use it on a frequent basis, especially with my kids. Or at least I used to say until I heard my 19 year mimic me in a conversation with his younger brother.
It went something like this…
We were staying at a hotel. My oldest son and I were away from the room. When we returned, my 15 year old son who had remained behind greeted us at the door and stated, “The A/C unit is leaking.”
Peering over his shoulder, we all looked at the A/C unit and literally watched a drop of water drip from the corner of the unit and onto the carpet.
Seeing there was no towel there to catch the water, my 19 year old asked, “How come you didn’t put a towel down?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you think you should put a towel down?” demanded my 19 year old.
“I don’t know,” answered the 15 year old, growing frustrated. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Then my 19 year said what I have said many times in similar situations.
“Does anyone have to tell you to raise the toilet lid before you go to the bathroom?”
And there it was or more accurately, there I was standing in front of me. Just a younger version, but clearly the same words, the same tone, the same inflection. Parents are lucky or unlucky depending on how you look at it. We get to see our reflection, the good and the bad, in our children since they are sometimes just younger versions of ourselves. I got to see myself and what I saw and heard I did not like. I grabbed my 19 year old by his arm and said, “Do I sound that bad when I say that?”
Surprised by the question, my 19 year old shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I don’t know. I’ve never given it any thought.” To be fair, he wouldn’t have told me if it was true any way. He’s more loyal to his father than perhaps his father deserves.
On the other hand, the 15 year old didn’t have a problem answering. “That’s exactly what you sound like.”
Some may argue that the phrase is clever, useful, and exactly what people need to hear. Twenty-eight years ago as a 19 year old Marine, I would have agreed completely. But as I heard my son say it, I was reminded that words not only have meaning but also a time and place and I was saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and the wrong place.
How can I be so sure? Because I asked myself this one but very simply question.
“Would I say the same thing to Mother Teresa?”
Can you imagine…“Hey, Mother Teresa, does anyone have to tell you to raise the toilet seat?”
Uh, uh. Never. Not a chance!
If you’re ever in doubt about if what you’re saying is right or wrong, just ask yourself if you would say the same thing to Mother Teresa. If not, then don’t say it to your husband, wife, students, teachers, staff members, friends, clients, citizens, children—or anybody else!
If not Mother Teresa, then substitute another person who will help you hold yourself to a higher standard instead of remaining a prisoner to a bad habit.
Questions: Does this make you think of any phrase that you too should stop saying? Or who would you substitute for Mother Teresa?