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Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Why is it that words said in the heat of the moment are always the ones we don't want to say? How many times have you said something mean when you were angry, or candid when you were feeling close, and regretted it, if not instantly, then soon afterward? If you're like the rest of the humans on this planet, then it's likely far too often.

So what gives? What is it about our intense emotional states that overcome the reticence built into our normal behaviour patterns? What makes us blurt out the kinds of things that we normally reserve for our inner thoughts?

Is it some sort of survival instinct? Or is it just a non-lethal shortcoming of the layers of evolution that constantly war in our brains? Did the lizards from whom we inherited our hindbrain have no capability to filter which thoughts turned to action? (Well, according to Ryan North, probably.)

Regardless of the reason (and I suspect that the capacity for blurting things out when you're emotional has likely been the single greatest catalyst for change in the whole of human history), we're all stuck with the ability to say things we really wish we hadn't. And I'm not just talking about stupid things, like Colin Firth's recent gaffe. It's the "And your haircut makes you look retarded!" when you're angry, and the "I think your sister's pretty hot, too..." during post-coital bliss.

Of course, alcohol consumption can also produce similar results. We've all seen people embarrass themselves after a few too many. Perhaps alcohol creates a short-circuit between the different layers of the brain?

In any case, after the fact, after the words have leapt from your mouth and no amount of biting your lips between your teeth will bring them back, what's a person to do? How do you handle telling the senior who's tutoring you in math that you had a dream about him or her involving white picket fences and two-car garages? Where do you go after screaming at your kid that you can't stand the way they pronounce "thermometer"?

Well, if you're a decent human being, then what you do depends on the effect of what you said. For words spoken in anger, I would say an apology is in order, and if major damage is done, then you follow up with more trying-to-make-it-right. For previously unspoken words of love, you simply blush, and then follow up with whatever seems right based on the response: perhaps a kiss, or just a mumbled excuse and a trip to the lavatory.

And if you were drunk? Well, maybe some kind of lame joke involving lampshades is in order.



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