By Sam Blend
The situation: Jerry and Elaine are at a dinner with distant members of Jerry’s family, hosted by his elderly relative, Monya. He has not seen or spoken to these people in years, and he and Elaine are grasping for things to talk about. They are so desperate that they begin to discuss the quality of the peas with unusual enthusiasm, “These peas are bursting with country fresh flavor!”
After that, Jerry’s mom brings up racehorses, which prompts Elaine to mention her opinion on ponies:
Elaine: “What about ponies, huh? What kind of abnormal animal is that? And those kids that had their own ponies.”
Jerry: “Oh, I know. I hated those kids. In fact, I hate anyone that ever had a pony growing up.”
Monya: “I had a pony!”
Jerry scrambles to recover from his accidentally offensive statement, but with each word, he digs himself deeper and deeper into the hole.
We’ve all been in a similar situation before, and we have probably been on either side at one point or another. I’ve had somebody completely bash The Beatles in front of me, totally unaware that they are my absolute favorite band. However, I, ashamedly, once talked bad about one of my high school administrators only to realize a couple minutes later that the girl who had been standing behind me had been his daughter.
The feeling of putting your foot in your mouth after making a statement that inadvertently insults somebody is dreadful. You almost wish you could literally put your foot in your mouth just for the sake of doing something to change the subject and chase away the awkwardness. And like Jerry, for the most part, anything you say afterward is not going to help the situation. The person isn’t going to forget what you said, and they know it’s the truth since you were speaking candidly.
Chances are you won’t be able to go the whole rest of your life without putting your foot in your mouth. However, there are some things you can do to decrease the amount of times that it happens and the amount of people you insult.
Just watch what you say:
There are some very sensitive and controversial topics that are usually best to stray away from, especially if you don’t really know the group of people you’re talking to. And if you want to keep peace, it’s usually best to keep your strongly opinionated views to yourself. However, if you’re with a group of friends who enjoys to debate and discuss the deepest questions and controversies of life and the universe, you can be as controversial as your heart pleases.
Pay attention to who you’re talking to/who’s around you:
The world is a very small place that’s full of diverse people and views. I’m not suggesting that we monitor every little thing we say as if we were a major public figure, but hopefully you’ll be more observant than I am so that you don’t end up insulting somebody’s father right in front of them.
Don’t make sweeping statements:
For example, “I hate anybody that’s ever had a pony.” Maybe all the kids Jerry knew as a kid who had ponies were snobs. But not every single kid with a pony is like that, and it’s wise to have an open mind and remember that it’s not a good idea to generalize about people.
Apologize and move on:
Usually the more you say to try to right the situation, the worse you make it. The atmosphere becomes unbearably tense. It’s usually best to just apologize. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you had a pony… obviously I don’t hate you … it was rude of me to stereotype.” Then try and think of a totally different subject to bring up that they will appreciate. Or, pray that somebody else will.
But stand up for what you believe:
Don’t ever let your values be compromised. If you are passionate about something (a certain cause, a political view, etc.) and if it’s a big part of who you are, don’t deny that part of yourself to be a people pleaser. There are times when it’s good to let people know where you stand on certain things.