From the time we are born until we die, we must deal with rules. First our parents provide the rules. Very early in life those rules consist of things like don’t put that in your mouth and don’t pull the cat’s tail. Dirt is not for eating; give me that spoon. Later the rules change a bit. Don’t chew with your mouth open. Keep your elbows off the table. Wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident. Clean up after yourself, and for heaven’s sake, go comb your hair.
Then we start to school and find ourselves burdened with a brand-new set of rules. Walk in a straight line down the hall to lunch. Keep your eyes on your own papers. No cheating, and keep your hands to yourself. We could add another complete set of rules for this year of 2020, but I’d prefer not to. I hope to forget masks and social distancing soon.
When and if we finish school, the rules seem to simplify just a bit but the consequences for disobedience intensify. Pay your taxes, do not drive too fast, and drink in moderation—unless you live here in the Bible Belt. Then the rule says, “No drinking! PERIOD!”
Around my house I have been trying forever to enforce some rules that involve taking responsibility for your own actions. For example, if you open it, shut it when you’re finished. Shut the dresser drawers. Close the kitchen cabinets when you open them. Close the washing machine lid and the dryer door. If you’ve finished working on the car, close the hood. Shut the door when you come in. We can’t afford to cool/heat the great outdoors. And if you should open your mouth and find that you really don’t have anything of value to say, then shut it quickly before all that junk leaks out. Don’t talk to hear yourself. Listen to some good music instead.
I think that last rule should come immediately after the golden one in life. Don’t talk unless you have something of value to say. Imagine how much stress it would save us.
I have a friend who talks non-stop. All I have to do to hold up my end of the conversation is nod my head or say uh-huh every now and again. When she calls me on the phone, I admit that I sometimes read a book while I hold the phone to my ear. I can identify with that country song—every now and then, I want to talk about me! Did I say I have a friend? Actually, I have an acquaintance who talks non-stop. There’s a big difference. I have real two-way conversations with my real friends.
Once, my seatmate on a plane talked all the way from Atlanta to Nebraska. Her grandson was meeting her at the airport and taking her out to eat. She’d been having a bit of trouble with her gallbladder, so she’d have to be careful what she ate, but she had her medicine handy just in case. She had a doctor’s appointment just the next week . . .
You get the idea. I still have nightmares about some of the information she told me. It was far more than I ever wanted to know. I’d never seen her before that plane ride nor since, but that trip made me wonder if some one can really talk you to death. I think it may be possible. I’m just thankful she sat with me on a two-hour flight to Nebraska, not on an overnight flight to Paris. Otherwise, I might not be here right now.
Perhaps we should add that close-your-mouth rule at all levels of learning from the cradle to the grave.
Way back in the 1700’s Benjamin Franklin wrote about his struggle with excessive talking. In his attempt to become perfect and to help his fellowman do the same, he advised: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” He gave it up after a short while as being too difficult to accomplish, probably like those New Year’s resolutions we all make and break before mid January. He did make a valiant effort though. That’s more than most of us do.
I think I’ll hush now before I break my own rule. If you don’t mind, will you close that door on your way out?
To reach Mary Ann Ellis, email her at email@example.com.