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The Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut

art of keeping your mouth shut -

In the grand scheme, mastery of the art of keeping your mouth shut far outweighs the pleasures to be had from building connection through ridicule.

A few months back, my friends and I walked a mile and a half in chilly temps to a Five Points brunch spot. While the food served there is mediocre, they offer bottomless mimosas served on a huge, heated back patio. Win-win. That heated patio became one of my mainstays during COVID.

That day, one of my friends brought her dog. When we arrived, I popped into the place, where the bartender told me that dogs aren’t allowed on the patio and that the patio was closed that day.

Ah, well. Not a problem. The area’s filled with restaurants that offer outdoor seating and allow dogs on their patios. I thanked the bartender and returned to my friends outside. En route to another place, I remembered that I had left my hat on a bar stool. I popped back in to retrieve it as the bartender and the two people seated at the bar discussed the “entitled morons” who thought they could bring their dog anywhere and who wanted to sit outside on a cold day.

“Don’t let me interrupt your conversation,” I said. “I’m just collecting my hat.”

All three froze like the bunny in my backyard who thinks he’s invisible when he’s not moving.

In recent years, I’ve built an affinity for uncomfortable silence. I stood, hat in hand, for several seconds, then left.

Now, in Colorado, lots of restaurant patios allow dogs. And during the age of COVID, I’ve preferred to sit outside when possible. While the desire to sit outside in cold weather may make me an outlier, it doesn’t make me a moron. And while my friends and I brought a dog with us, I didn’t expect or request special privileges or treatment. I didn’t roll my eyes, argue, or leave in a huff. They don’t allow dogs and weren’t serving on the back patio. Roger that. That was good enough for me.

The Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut

Let’s be honest. A sense of superiority, though dangerous, is great fun. It feels good to high-hat the “entitled moron” who wants to dine outside in the cold with their dog. There’s a delicious communal joy to be had in shared derision.

I know. I’ve been there. I remember the time I was caught.

Thirty years ago, I prattled on to an eager audience about the loud, arrogant behavior of a guy we all lived with in a 30-person London hostel. My audience didn’t like the guy, so they shared their own examples of his pretentious behavior, amping up the collective scorn. I fed off their energy, I the hero of the story, he, the villain. The longer I talked, the more powerful I felt.

“I’m sorry about my behavior,” someone said, interrupting me. And then the guy came around the corner, faced my audience and me. Every inch of him earnest, his regret palpable.

I had no affinity for awkward, uncomfortable silence. Not back then.

The guy left, and I dropped onto the nearby stairwell. I remember thinking that there is an art to keeping your mouth shut — or, rather, to knowing when to keep your mouth shut. And in the grand scheme, the mastery of this art far outweighs the pleasures to be had from human connection and conceit built upon ridicule.

It really does.

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