Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Useful words

This morning I was looking up a quote for a piece I'm writing, and came across this:

You don't have to attend every argument to which you're invited.

Ahhhh, now isn't that useful? It's pithy. And pithiness is important when I'm talking to my kids. I discovered years ago that...

  1. The fewer words I use, the less likely I am to Rant.
  2. The fewer words I use, the more likely it is that I will keep my temper. 
  3. The fewer words I use, the more times I can repeat them calmly.
  4. The fewer words I use, the more likely it is that someone will, eventually, remember what I say.
When the kids were little I aimed for five words or less. This translated into a mantra of "Hitters get time out" and (on the subway) "You shout, we get out." Nowadays the sayings are a little longer: "Homework is done when it's in your backpack" and "Supper is over when your plate's in the kitchen." The idea is to distill what could be a lecture into something I can repeat endlessly, without getting annoyed.

The repetition part is important. A priest once complained that he said the same thing over and over but people never seemed to get it. I laughed and said, "You're annoyed about it because you're not a parent. You need to assume it will take a huge number of repetitions, like 500,000. That way when you get to 397,262 you aren't as frustrated, because you know you've still got a long way to go!"

I still Rant, especially when people leave an above-average mess or argue about cleaning up. If you have any pithy sayings to help me with those topics, do tell. 


  1. I like that idea of using as few words as possible. With teenagers, they tune out after about five words so really, you have to get the content in quickly.

  2. I can't tell you how many times I've been interrupted on the phone. My response is "are you bleeding? is the house on fire? is there a bear at the back door?". It's more than five words, but by now I only have to say one of the three.