The theory of the big mouth has a simple premise. The world is run by people who talk a lot. The trouble is that 99.9% (well, some large percentage—I have not conducted a survey) of the talkers do not know what they are talking about. I sometimes fantasize that the world would be a better place if the talkers were to take a holiday one day a month and say nothing for twenty-four hours. Having been a shy, quiet person all my life, I have been on the butt end of many a talker comment. Also, by not talking a lot I have been able to observe much talker behavior. What follows are my comments to talkers, my turn at talking back to them.
The butt end of talker comment is the unsolicited and often rude and ill-mannered advice given to quiet people. “Speak up kid,” “bite your tongue kid,” “you're going to have to learn to speak up or you won't survive in this world,” and that gem of the reverse golden rule given to me as fatherly advice when I was a young man working in business: “you’re going have to learn to do it to others before they do it to you.” Variations on these comments go on ad nauseam. I have often wondered why it is okay for a talker to give unsolicited advice to a quiet person, but rude and ill-mannered for a quiet person to talk back to a talker, for example, by saying something like, “you’re going to have to learn not to talk so much” or “you need to stop and think before speaking.” When any attempt is made like this, the talker usually responds with an indignant “how dare you talk to me that way.” Funny, I always thought advice-giving was a two-way street.
My observations of talkers have shown that many talkers are oblivious to psychology, especially the psychology of the person they are talking to. Often they are just oblivious, unable to see or acknowledge the obvious boredom on the faces of their listeners. It is especially sad, though, to see a parent feeling embarrassed for the behavior of a shy child when, say, the child speaks an inaudible “thank you” or “goodbye” or does not speak up at all. Haranguing children in such situations will not help them become comfortable in the company of other people and encourage them to speak up; it may drive them to become quieter and more withdrawn. Addressing their fears and discomfort is the correct aid. Besides, shyness does tend to decrease with age and maturity. It did for my father, a quiet man most of his life, and today even I, in my older years, talk to strangers!
The “theory of the big mouth,” of course, is an unfriendly designation. In me it renders an image of the bigmouth bass, a fish. What I am really talking about is a variant of Glasser’s external control psychology, best captured by this quote:
The seeds of almost all our unhappiness are planted early in our lives when we begin to encounter people who have discovered not only what is right for them—but also, unfortunately, what is right for us. Armed with this discovery and following a destructive tradition that has dominated our thinking for thousands of years, these people feel obligated to try to force us to do what they know is right. (Choice Theory, p. 4)
And talkers seem to be the ones who know what is right for everyone else, especially those pesky quiet types. It is in the elementary school years when children become aware of right and wrong. As they discover what is right, they often conclude that whatever they do is not just right for themselves but also for everyone else. They fail to acknowledge, and need to be taught, the existence of options, the wide range of behavior that is not the same as theirs, but still is right. If not corrected, this premise can lead to rankism (1, 2, 3) and BS’ing, or worse.
It is not a sin (or disadvantage) to be shy. Remember the western cowboy heroes? They all spoke few words. Indeed, psychologists have found that many people, including the gregarious and famous, feel shy at some times and in some areas of their lives. The entertainer and comedian Johnny Carson several times said that he often felt shy at cocktail parties. The advantage of being a quiet type is that we can sit back and observe what is going on in the world around us and then write about it—as in a blog like this one. And I don’t think I’ve been a failure in life. So talk on you talkers. I’ll just write about you!