Real Stuff My Dad Says 70: Think Before You Smoke… or Speak

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For most people, their retirement date usually is preceded by some sort of countdown – perhaps five years or even six months. For my dad, though, he went on short-term disability for his back surgery, then while recovering from his surgery, his company offered him an early retirement package with a 21-day window to either accept it or possibly be cut loose. Needless to say, being faced with a 21 day decision process compared to a five year plan for retirement changes a man’s perspective on what he wants to do when he grows up.

So, unlike a lot of recent retirees, Dad doesn’t have much of a plan for this next era of his life. He does, however, have a goal: set aside time every day to take in educational videos, podcasts or other recorded materials. Now that he has the time, he’s going to hunt down the quality information and lessons that are out there that he wanted to find before, but work simply got in the way. Our hope is that you will continue to read, listen to and appreciate our show in that same fashion.

Now, getting to the Real Stuff My Dad Says, there was a lesson that I very vividly remember him trying to hammer into my head when I was young… and admittedly, I struggled with it constantly. Now that I’m a dad, I see the same cycle repeating itself between me and my sons. Time and time again, my dad would scold me: “Jefferson… you’ve got to think before you speak! Whatever you’re about to say, repeat it in your own mind three or four times and consider how it will be heard before you say it out loud.”

I remember one instance very clearly where Dad wished that I had mastered this lesson: We were at a family restaurant (Bob’s Big Boy or Coco’s… something of that ilk), and this was back when smoking was allowed in restaurants. I saw this lady approach the cigarette machine in the lobby and deposit her cash to buy a pack. Now, I was totally enamored by those machines. I had no idea what they sold or how they worked, but they had cool handles and knobs that could be pulled and turned, with a giant opening that dropped fun-sized boxes that people scooped up and enjoyed! So, upon seeing this lady drop her coins into the slot, I was going to “help”, slithered my way through the lobby crowd and pulled on the closest lever. What was supposed to be, in my mind at least, a fun –even helpful – moment turned out to be a disaster. I grabbed the wrong lever and wasted the lady’s money on the wrong brand of cigarettes. My parents hardly had enough money to take us out to dinner, much less to spring for a pack of cigarettes. My dad was extremely embarrassed and the lady I had “helped” was fuming!

I don’t remember the exact words that my dad said at that moment, but the message was very clear: THINK!!! Think before you act. Think before you speak. Think before your buy some lady the wrong cigarettes!!!!

And now I see my own boys doing the same sorts of things – not thinking before they do or say something. What’s crazy is that there are times these days, where I scold my kids, and they reply, “Dad, I did think about it. I just didn’t see it playing out like this. When I thought it through, it had a different ending.”

So, all this makes me wonder, is it possible – as we are thinking and thinking about what to say or do in a particular situation – to over think it and arrive at a conclusion that is quite different than what actually plays out?

Now, my dad ran into another scenario that relates to this question a while back. He had a friend who had left his wife and made other mistakes along the way. He then had reached some healthy conclusions, one of which being that he needed to go back to his wife and apologize to her. This wasn’t to try to reconcile their marriage or begin dating again. It was simply to say, “I know I made mistakes and I’m truly sorry”.

My dad’s advice to him?

HOLD YOUR HORSES!! (Wait… what?? How could it possibly be bad to run out and apologize for making mistakes that ruined your marriage?)

Dad told him that he will have had hours, days, weeks, even months to think about this discussion that he wanted to have with his ex-wife. He was thinking through the exact words that he would use, the timing and location that the discussion would take place. But his wife would have none of this preparation or pre-thought whatsoever. Whatever the guy said, she was going to instantly react to his apology without any forethought of her own. Then, she’ll be hammered by an onslaught of questions and cynicism as she immediately processes his apology. Bottom line is, she was probably going to react badly – at least not according to his plan. And it wouldn’t be her fault.

Well, the guy didn’t heed Dad’s warnings.

Instead, out of the blue, he approached her, blurted out, “I’m sorry”… and then there was awkward silence.

She didn’t know how to take it. She didn’t trust him. She thought there had to be some sort of ulterior motive behind this.

And no one could blame her.

It’s kind of like the “relationship” between a pitcher and batter in a baseball game.

The pitcher has time to prepare and think through what type of pitch to throw (fastball, breaking ball, change-up, inside, outside, high, low, etc.). He has the ability to not only think through what the most effective pitch will be, but also consider the odds of what scenarios will play out after he throws the ball (swing and miss, grounder, fly ball, etc.).   The batter, on the other hand, only has a split second to react to what he sees and make a decision on whether he should swing. Then, when the batter lays down a bunt, doesn’t bail out and gets hit, or takes the outside curve for a ball… all the pitcher’s planning was for not because of the batters split-second reaction.

Our “difficult discussions” often play out in the same fashion.

Most of the time, we don’t mean to fail when we are about to have a tough discussion. We think it through and rethink it. We assume that the discussion will resolve at a healthy outcome. But the truth is that most of the time, we fail. In fact, keeping with the baseball analogy, Hall of Fame hitters typically have a batting average somewhere around .300 – which means that when it came to making those split second decisions, or even when making the planned out decisions, they failed 70% of the time. In all likelihood, when we engage in difficult decisions, it wouldn’t be surprising if we end up with the same success rate as Ted Williams or Tony Gwynn.

A pastor I once worked with put it this way: Whenever we try to communicate with someone, there are three messages being spoken: 1) What I mean to say, 2) What I actually say, and 3) What the other person hears.

When we think and rethink and re-rethink these scenarios, these three messages are unified. However, when real life hits, those three messages are often three totally different.

So, taking this all back to my dad’s friend’s discussion with his ex-wife, my dad warned him to not be shocked by the response that she might offer. Even though he may be honestly asking for forgiveness and truly full of contrition, her response was likely to be untrusting and even spiteful.

It’s often best to prepare, think it through, offer your message, and then conclude it with “I know this is a lot to process right now” and take time to walk away and let them work it through their own minds for a while.

At least, that’s what my dad says.

For more engaging and encouraging podcasts and videos, visit the E-Squared Media Network at www.e2medianetwork.com.

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