Most readers are probably familiar with the 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes’ statement: “I think: therefore I am.” I’m not sure exactly what it means, but most people think it is profound. Not too long ago I was reminded of a lesson about thinking that reminded me of Descartes’ words.
What got my attention was the report from a friend that something I had said to another friend was offensive. And it troubled me because the person I offended has done a lot for me and is someone I greatly respect. The sad part is that I was trying to be funny, but was oblivious to the fact that my words had landed with a thud.
Since then I’ve been wondering about all the people I have spoken to through the years who may have been hurt by what I said and I didn’t even know it. And my sense is that most of the time when it happened I was trying to be funny.
My friend who shared with me how my words had hurt our mutual friend challenged me to do better in the future by thinking about what I say. Borrowing from and adding to Descartes words, I want to suggest a lesson we all need to keep in mind and practice: “You think, therefore you are—therefore think about what you say—before you say it.”
And there are two additional important lessons for me not prompted by Descartes: don’t always try to be funny, and remember teasing is not always appropriate.
If the question is “What was I thinking?”, too often in my life the answer has been “I wasn’t thinking.” In the future I plan and hope to do more thinking about what I say– and before I say it.
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