Reality Check: The Five Second Rule

Do you know the five second rule? Maybe it’s the ten second rule. Either way, it’s the rule/myth that when a piece of food hits the floor, it’s still edible if it’s picked up right away.
You know, of course, that this isn’t offered as health, hygiene, food-handling or any other kind of advice. And if you have a dog in the household, any concern about picking up food from the floor is irrelevant anyway.
The rule becomes more interesting for non-food situations, as it’s suggesting that when a problem is fixed quickly, it’s ok to pretend that it never happened.
Let’s think about how we could apply this rule to conversations.
It’s very easy to blurt out a hurtful comment. Maybe someone is making a little joke or is just not thinking, but ends up saying something unkind.
Once a comment is out there, it can be hard to take it back even if they didn’t really mean it. Whether it’s pride or ego or fear of looking weak, they may choose to double down rather than back down.
If you find that you often feel hurt when you perceive that someone has made a comment to you that you consider unkind or unpleasant, here’s a suggestion.
Ask, “Is that what you really wanted to say?”
If you can manage to ask that question in a way that doesn’t convey accusation, judgement, anger, defensiveness, but that is instead genuinely curious, you gain the possibility of a helpful result. Why?
This question offers the person an out, with dignity, for a statement that they may not have truly intended to say. They get an opportunity to respond, “Ummm, no. Maybe that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say.”
If so, then let the five second rule apply. Both of you can carry on as if the toast never hit the floor; as if the hurtful statement was never said.
I’m not suggesting literally five seconds, of course. I am simply suggesting that offering an opportunity for someone to “take it back” without any negative consequences is a good way to remind ourselves that we don’t always say what we mean.
We’re not always the most eloquent speakers. All of us can get a little snappy when we’re tired, hungry, feeling challenged, and so on. People say things they regret.
In addition, some folks tend to save their best behaviour for people they are not close to. They pay attention and respond thoughtfully to acquaintances, co-workers or bosses, while not bothering to be so careful with the people closest to them.
If you find this happening in a relationship that’s important to you, perhaps gently asking the question, “Is that really what you wanted to say?” is worth a try.
It may take practice to ask the question without a judgemental tone; however, it’s worth making the effort to do so.
What will the answer tell you? In the best case, it could strengthen the relationship. And whether you like the answer or not, you will certainly learn something useful.
Do you think this might be a helpful question for any of your interactions?

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