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Your Red Pen
Mom with a View

Your Red Pen

We all know the pain and humiliation of being the victim of an unedited speaker.


It's a lot of fun to be an editor. You don't have to create the original product; you don't have to agonize over thoughts and expressions. You get to fine tune someone else's work. You get to make it ready for presentation. It's the thrill of the finished product with a lot less of the tedium along the way (a little like being grandparents!)

But while editing the work of others is fun, editing ourselves is not. If you're a writer and you have to painstakingly review what you've written, try to get a fresh perspective and then excise significant portions of your work, it can be extremely painful. Not all of us are writers (I have no novel lurking inside of me just waiting to get out), but there is an area of all of our lives in desperate need of editing: our speech.

How many relationships could have been salvaged if we applied our red pen to our speech as well as our paper?

While it may be hard to look inward, we can all look outward and recognize a friend or family member who would benefit from some judicious editing. It's ironic that we're so careful about what we write but allow the words to trip off our tongue unchecked. How many relationships could have been improved or salvaged if we applied our red pen to our speech as well as our paper?

We all know the pain and humiliation of being the victim of an unedited speaker.

Whether from lack of self-awareness, lack of caring or "in the name of openness and honesty," the speaker vents their negative impression of us. Not only do we not appreciate and grow from this "helpful" perspective, we usually pull back from any further contact with said speaker. It's self-preservation.

Using the virtue of honesty as a guise is disingenuous as well. This is not what the Torah means by keeping far from lies. On the contrary -- we are permitted to (slightly) distort the truth for the sake of peace. Just as the Almighty refrained from telling Abraham that Sarah said he was old (he was a spry 99 at the time!), so too should we muffle our negative opinions, especially when their expression will be hurtful and unproductive. If your friend has already purchased that dress, it is only flattering. If she's still deciding, you can gently steer her towards another item.

"Being honest" is frequently just an excuse for avoiding the effort of self-editing. "Being honest" is not an expression or true love or friendship but rather a reflection of moral laziness. If I really care, I will think before I speak. If I really care, I will carefully evaluate my words. If I really care, I will ask myself "Could these words cause pain? Does this information need to be communicated? Is there a gentler way?"

That is certainly how we want others to treat us, and it's how we should treat them.

We also need to practice a little self-censorship to help avoid these painful interactions. If we are forever asking, "Do I look fat?" "Do I look old?" "Did I do a good job?" then we are inviting criticism. We are creating a stumbling block for the listener. We shouldn't try to force constant compliments. We may not get back what we bargained for.

Just as a magazine or newspaper editor does have to eliminate serious flaws in the pieces presented for his perusal, so we all have character flaws that require attention. But unlike the authors above, we are usually aware of our bad habits and more likely to tackle them when feeling loved and secure.

Editing others is easy. Editing oneself is a lot of work. Editing others is a lonely road. Editing oneself leads to a life filled with warmth and caring and the friendship and love of others. Red pen anyone?

December 23, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Dvirah, December 28, 2006 1:44 PM

99% of kindness is deception.

Thank you for a very timely reminder. It's true we often speak before we think. While the truth is important in most situations, I myself have found that, 99% of the time, kindness consists of - not lying outright, but -not telling the whole truth. This may be a "lie by omission," but it does get better results than a brutal truth would. Again, thank you.

(3) Esther, December 26, 2006 7:13 PM

A much-needed reminder

Thanks for a very good article; it was a much-needed reminder for myself.

(2) devorah, December 25, 2006 8:23 PM


i really like this one! thank u so much! i will forward this one to all my friends now!
thanks again!

(1) crabtail, December 24, 2006 2:39 PM

how about autism?

i'm wondering as we be here autistic. i've not spoken a word until age nine, and much it took to master speech. to edit or even to know what to edit is too much for mine brain to work out. it's like anything but that is a lie. i can't do it. most times i know not when something will hurt another or not. it's best i feel to live in no speechland. as things were less complicated then. there be many mores autistic peoples now and i find it refreshing and less alone. many people say one thing and think another and i trust them not. they make different smells and different movements when they lie or when they say something opposite what they mean and it repulses myself as i can tell when they be dishonest, only i don't know about what or why, or even if it is in being polite. it all comes out the same. peoples movements change, their smells change and i know they lie and it matters not because i can trust them no more and it angers me to no end. it enfuriates me even when the bodies change like that and i become near feral, reacting to all that they hide that can't hide so well. i'm not sure why. i can't make meaning why. being autistic makes one near primal and the language of deceit hurts much. best people not talk or ask or wish me or pray me to speak then. as my mother prayed many days crying for myself to speak and now sometimes she wishes i did not. and i best leave as i've not the tools or skills needed to censure myself. i speak what i think everyday. and know nothing else perhaps it be best that myself never acquired speech. i don't know. i don't know why i'm here the rules and regulations are too dificult to grasp. it's too much. too much. and some things make sense but too much does not. i've always been told that in certain situations white lies are okay. but it has become the norm of everyday. to sacrifice honesty for politeness is not something i can do or want to. i barely recognize politeness as it is. somehow we must integrate with others. autistic people are having a dificult time of it like many others. i guess i'm happy there's more of us. feels less alone. this message does not bring understanding to me i must analyse and find more logic, but at length i am unable to do so for now, there's not much you have given me in this article that brings me peace. Thumper's mother said to thumper in Bambi if you have nothing nice to say don't say anything at all." but when or how to know what is nice to say or not? for one thing saying something different than what i think is painful to me. it hurts my brain physical it does. i can never say it's nice to meet anyone if i don't know whether it's actually nice to meet them. and when people ask "hello how are you, then they must be prepared to wait ten minutes as i tell them exactly how i am and am unable to opt for an automatic 'fine, thank you.' i will naught be able to reply. i don't understand the intentions behind people. we are now 1 in 166. how be can we navigate this terrain then if this rules you bring forth connot be adapted by some of us where it may be a great sacrifice to who we are? i have to remind you any attempt at deceipt whether in politeness or otherwise does actually cause me physical pain.

as well as mine nephews and neices who are autistic as well and are unable to do so, and are not liked for their honesty or bluntness. amongst other things that who and what we are is usually most offensive to others anyhow, editing speech will not help us. actually it hurts most of us a great deal. perhaps to disapear into no speeachland again? but how to defend ourselves then. we be invisible without speech and defenseless to others much without it. be so have some choice with speech but there is none without speech. i use speech as a tool and know not when or how to edit as well as many like ourselves here.. (?)


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