You Can't Take Back What You've Already Said

Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker's weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.

Photo by Bryon Lippincott.

Walk A Mile In Your Wrongdoer's Shoes

Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker's weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.

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This week's selection comes from Zeno of Citium, as quoted by Diogenes Laertius. He reminds us that words can't be unsaid:

"Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue."

Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 7.1.26

What It Means

If you trip with your feet, you can get back up again and carry on business as usual. We all make mistakes like this sometimes. It might be embarrassing, but only if you care greatly about the opinions of others.

If you trip with your tongue, you unleash more than just words. You share thoughts, desires or perspectives that may hurt others. Once you've said something hurtful, you can't undo it. There's no getting back up; there's only asking for forgiveness and hoping they will pull you back up.

What to Take From It

Think before you speak. Whatever you say, write or tweet will be out there forever. You can burn pages, and delete tweets and Facebook comments, but you can't pull your words from someone else's mind. So, while you may one day forget why you said such hurtful things, the world won't. Don't forget an earlier lesson that says it's best not to speak unless you know for certain it's something worth saying. If even a sliver of your being thinks what you're about to say is better left unsaid, keep it to yourself, or at least save it for a more opportune moment where your words will be seen in the right light.

How Not To Apologise

Man, this last couple of weeks has seen a veritable tsunami of sexual-harassment allegations, right? And while some of the accused are silent or flat-out denying any culpability, others have been swift to apologise.

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If your hurtful words are already out there, don't try to make them go away, or tell people that they misunderstood - apologise. Say that you're sorry for what you said, sorry for how you made them feel, and express your desire to be more mindful in the future. They may not accept, but that's why it's so important you avoid tripping with your tongue in the first place.


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