Restraint of Tongue and Pen.

The Art of Pausing – Solid AA Advice

Most of us are familiar with the saying, “running at the mouth.” Generally, this is not a behavior to be admired, and many of us have witnessed or, like me, have even been guilty of it at times. Given this, I advocate not only for pausing when agitated, but also for pausing before speaking—always.

Taking a moment to understand the context, formulate thoughts, and even question whether speaking is necessary can significantly enhance communication. This conscious approach to conversation is beneficial not just in meetings, but in life as well.

Examples of Miscommunication

I’m sure many of us have experienced the dreaded “foot-in-mouth disease”—saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Miscommunication often occurs when we speak impulsively without adequate forethought. Although “thinking out loud” can be useful during one-on-one interactions with a sponsor, friend, or therapist, it may not be the best way to share the AA message. Pausing to reflect before speaking can prevent regrettable utterances.

Missteps in communication can also occur during sensitive discussions. An infamous example from my personal experience was asking a woman when her baby was due, only to discover she had already given birth two months prior. I assure you, I’ve never repeated that mistake!

Misguided Empathy

During challenging times, our human instinct often compels us to reach out and say something, anything, to connect. Yet, this approach can sometimes backfire. For instance, consider a meeting where someone shares, “My mom died this week.” A well-intentioned person might approach them afterward to share about their own mother’s passing. Though this is meant to be a gesture of empathy, it can often feel misplaced.

Having been in such conversations, I’ve learned that the person experiencing the loss typically does not want to engage in a “loss contest” or hear about your experience. Instead, a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss!” suffices. If you’re unsure of what to say, expressing your support can be more comforting than recounting unrelated personal experiences.

The Restraint of Tongue and Pen: A Closer Look

The concept of pausing when agitated or doubtful is a central and well-regarded aspect of the AA program. The 12 +12 further elaborates on this concept with the often-quoted phrase, “restraint of tongue and pen.”

So, the next time you’re tempted to speak, take a moment. Consider your audience and the potential impact of your words. Reflect on whether what you’re about to say is necessary, timely, and appropriate. Sometimes, the most meaningful contribution is the one left unsaid.