Do you ever feel like every time you open your mouth you say the wrong thing? I don’t know why it is, but some people have a knack for offending others, while other people have a gift for appeasing everybody. Call it charm, humor or manipulation, we all know folks who can get away with the most outlandish remarks. If we said the same thing, it would be considered offensive or rude. I just don’t get it.
Dad had the wit and style of a true Irishman. He could disarm anyone as fast as Ali could deliver a one-two punch. Dad would insult a relative with such grace and humor the fellow didn’t realize he was being made sport of until he got home and thought about it. Then it was too late to retaliate. I wish I could say I inherited Dad’s cheerful blarney, but such is not always the case.
I’ll give you a few examples. When I was 10, the phone company ran a party line down our sideroad. Our number was 38J, either two shorts and a long or one long and two shorts, I don’t remember. Anyway, using the phone was a privilege, not the mandatory third hand it is today. In other words, I didn’t grow up with a telephone as an extra appendage and to this day do not enjoy talking on one. A year ago, I mentioned that to an acquaintance and haven’t heard from her since.
Turning the clock way back, a relative invited me to an Al Anon meeting. I attended about five sessions. I kept quiet as I listened to the women gripe about their husbands who were at work. Week after week it was the same thing. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and told the gals if I was married to one of them, I’d drink too. You can just about imagine how that went over.
Sometimes I think the only solution to keeping everyone happy is to keep quiet, but even silence angers some folks. In my first year of college, I was a timid country mouse. I thought the best way to go unnoticed in class was to say nothing. I never contributed to discussions and never asked questions. I tried to blend into my surroundings by remaining silent. By the end of the term, I had not spoken one word which irritated a fellow female student. During the last week of class, she asked if I was mute. I felt my face flame red. I wanted to disappear, to simply evaporate before the eyes of classmates.
Expressing an opinion is like walking through a linguistic minefield. If we say too much, we hurt someone’s feelings. If we say nothing at all, we let others hurt ours or silently agree with an opposing viewpoint. What’s a person to do? I certainly don’t have the answer, but I keep hoping one of these days Dad’s droll Irish genes will visit me. Perhaps then I’ll find a happy medium between wit and sarcasm and magically please everyone. Until then there’s only one solution. I’ll keep a roll of duct tape handy. I might look silly with my mouth taped shut, but I won’t offend anyone I converse with because my opinion will remain unspoken.
However, I won’t be taping my fingers so upsetting the linguistic apple cart will continue as I write these columns. Such is life.
— To contact Sharon Kennedy, send her an email at authorsharonkennedy.com. Kennedy's latest book, “The SideRoad Kids: Tales from Chippewa County,” is available from her, Amazon, or Audible.
This article originally appeared on The Sault News: Sharon Kennedy: Navigating the minefield of words