Learning to Filter

beardA recent experience at the local library illustrates the tension as a parent between laughing hysterically at what your kids say and cringing in agony as they open their mouths in public. What does that have to do with a kid bearded up like Giants’ pitcher Brian Wilson? Almost nothing. I just have a thing for beards.

But back to the library. Only a parent can understand that moment when, in the company of other children and adults, your kids start running their mouths. If a sentence starts with “Daddy says… or Mommy says…” my skin begins to crawl with that sixth sense of a rapidly approaching awkward moment.

This particular time it was my three-year-old, pushing plastic trucks along the ground and chattering away. Enter a mother with her own toddler, the unwitting victims of the verbal accosting that was about to take place.

Not only does my mini-me, age three, have one volume setting even in a library—loud—he is now directing his semi-shouting at the poor mother and her probably two-ish daughter. After a stern reprimand from me, he continued to barrage the little girl, instructing her to play nice, informing her that she’d better be nice to his little brother, and so on.

Another correction from me, which seemed to settle it, until he said, “Am I gonna get a spank? When you’re loud, Daddy is gonna spank you. We need be quiet in the library.”

I was thinking about that Southwest commercial: “Wanna get away?” At this the even more awkward moment when the mom quickly told her daughter it was time to go, took her by the hand and escorted her out of the building. My five-year-old sat down next to me and, with an embarrassed look on his face said, “Daddy, every time he opens his mouth in public and talks to strangers I get nervous.”

I whispered right back into his ear, “You and me both buddy. You and me both.”

As I thought about it, nothing he said was untrue or even mean spirited. He just lacked discretion in that social setting. He was being, as we say, “socially awkward.” When they’re little you expect that. They haven’t developed a filter yet.

But it reinforced to me the need as a parent to teach them wisdom in restraining their words—learning when to speak and what to say—because I’ve known adults who still don’t have a filter. Their words can often be untimely, unhelpful, or just inappropriate for the situation. As I continue to learn that for myself (which is reflected in their speech), it’s important to teach them wise speech as well.

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent (Proverbs 17:27-28).

Teaching my kids to restrain their words is also a humbling endeavor of habit for me because it forces me to realize that I have trouble shutting my mouth, too. It really is a foolish thing to be constantly airing your opinions when you should be listening (Proverbs 18:2). Nobody wants to be around the guy who uses everyone else as a sounding board for his own opinions (guilty). Ultimately, loving others means learning how and when to speak, and when not to.

The Three Footers, it turns out, are little mirrors. Do your lips know restraint?

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