Everybody knows about the “five-second rule” for food. If you drop food on the kitchen floor, as long as you pick it up within five seconds, it’s still OK to eat.
The only exception to this rule is if you live in a house with pets that shed a lot. If you pick up, say, a fallen Hostess Fruit Pie within five seconds and it resembles one of those Troll dolls with colorful hair sticking out in all directions, then maybe you shouldn’t eat it. I say “maybe” because I realize that if it is the last Hostess Fruit Pie in the house, you cannot just throw it away and be satisfied snacking instead on Saltines or a rice cake. You simply have to try and salvage some of that hairy little fruit pie.
Anyway, the five-second rule comes in very handy if you’re like me: an enthusiastic eater with occasional butter fingers. And speaking of butter fingers, try not to drop a Butterfingers candy bar on the kitchen floor because they tend to shatter. A Three Musketeer bar, on the other hand, is the best. It only dents when it thuds against the floor. You can reach down, pick it up, pop it in your mouth, and all is right with the world.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a five-second rule, not for things we want to put into our mouths, but for things that come out of our mouths, namely our words? Wouldn’t it be nice if each time we said something really stupid or hurtful, as long as we said within five seconds, “No, I didn’t mean that!” then everyone would instantly forget what was said and carry on as if nothing happened?
It’s not like we even need the full five seconds. Judging from my own experience, most of the time when I say something stupid or hurtful, before the words have even come out of my mouth, the rational part of my brain is yelling to me, “Don’t say it, pal! Please don’t say it!”
But it’s usually too late. The emotional part of my brain replies to the rational part, “Shut up, twerp!” Then the emotional part of my brain clicks the send button, causing the stupid or hurtful words to spew forth from my mouth. (Often these words also include the phrase, “Shut up, twerp!”)
The instant the words are spoken, the emotional part of my brain suddenly turns rational and remorseful — a few moments too late. This is because the emotional part of my brain hates to see someone cry. At this point, no matter how sincerely I say, “I didn’t mean that” and “I was just kidding,” the damage has been done. The other person somehow is not convinced I was just kidding, possibly because people who are “just kidding” don’t turn red and have veins bulging in their necks and spray spittle across the room while shouting the word “twerp.”
Just think how much better our lives would be if we had five seconds to take back our words. The divorce rate would be cut in half, the Saturday night barroom brawl rate would be reduced, and the dreaded H.F.F. — Hard Feelings Factor — would be practically eliminated. C’mon, you know what I mean. The H.F.F. is what keeps family members from speaking to each other for decades at a time, because of a snarky comment no one can even remember anymore.
Best of all, if we didn’t have to spend half our lives trying to make up for the stupid and hurtful things we say, we would have more time to snack on Hostess Fruit Pies and Three Musketeer bars — on or off the floor.