Steve Eaton: Columnist discovers mild superpower: The (in)ability to overpower mental filters
Just this week after a surprise drop-in visit from my boss’ boss’ boss, I came to a very scary and disturbing understanding.
I realized that under the stress of it all, several things I said completely missed any mental filters I have in place to keep myself out of trouble — and out of court. Unplanned words were streaming out of mouth, like it was the first time I’d heard them. It was like I was an observer, unable to stop someone else from saying stupid things about me.
While this may prove entertaining to others, it is not helpful for me vocationally.
This would not be a problem if I had been offering remarkable insight that would impress and amaze my boss. Instead, I heard myself asking if I could take credit for all of his accomplishments after he died.
Now, I know for a fact that I did not consciously strategize this prior to our meeting. It just flew out of my mouth wild and free, like an out-of-control third-grader who doesn’t understand what it means to raise your hand.
If my mouth has this much independent power, then I should be very careful what I think about. What if I were to suddenly blurt out that I wished I had married Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island” when I was a teenager? Or just suddenly rambled on about the need to develop a diet pill that would help me lose weight by making me extremely tall? (No wonder they don’t invite me to sit at the head table anymore.)
Despite the verbal stupidity, I know the encounter with this high-ranking person in my life could have — and has — gone worse. On at least three separate occasions, when I have discovered this boss standing next to my desk, I have simply turned and screamed at him as if he were an executive zombie.
This has never been a good way to start a professional office encounter and might explain why I have now been given a new, special office in the basement.
It’s clear that when under serious stress, sometimes my mouth just won’t stay on message. However, sometimes I don’t even need to be stressed to have my mouth go rogue.
Two weeks ago, I visited another church and was asked to introduce myself. Before I knew it, I stood up and said, “I’m just going to be here a few weeks until the sentencing and then I’ll be gone for five or six years and then I’ll be back.”
At least I didn’t mention Mary Ann.
My mouth can spontaneously orchestrate statements that involve the cooperation of my hands. Once when my sister brought over an important boy to our house — who we knew she was not supposed to marry — I found myself acting out my own little impromptu drama. In the middle of the meal, I looked down at my hand as if I were hiding a 3-by-5 card and said, “Mmm, Mmm, Liz. These are wonderful mashed potatoes. What a fine cook you are. You will make a wonderful wife someday!”
“What?!” With a horrified look on her face, she feared yet another embarrassing prank was about to begin at exactly the wrong moment.
My little brother, Rob, picked up the ball immediately by looking down at his hand and said, as if reading carefully, “Yes, Liz, you are a quite a cook. Any guy who marries you will be lucky indeed.”
“Dad! Tell them to stop it,” she said, pleading with my father who also seemed surprised by the scripted outbursts.
Then my father, to the dismay of my sister, looked at his hand and said, pretending to read, “It is true, my daughter, you have always been such a lovely person. You make delicious peas and carrots. You are certainly someone who will be married soon.”
In this case, an unorchestrated outburst helped my sister marry the right guy. It just took her a few years for her see how much we had helped her.
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