If I have an achilles heel--hard to believe but I do--it would be the big mouth God blessed me with. Don't get me wrong, it has been a blessing (like the time I stuffed 32 grapes in my mouth only to be beaten by my oldest sister who stuffed a whopping 52 into hers), but it's also been a curse.
Let me give you a few examples:
We were living in WyView housing across from LaVell Edwards Stadium at BYU. We were assigned some new home teachers. On their first visit, we were visiting with them and asking the normal get-to-know-you questions. Somehow it came up that one of the home teacher's father had passed away. Please learn from my mistake: when death comes up in conversation, never ask how the person died. So brilliantly, that's what I asked.
Me: "Oh, how did your father die?"
Home teacher: "He was murdered."
Me inside my head: "Murdered? What the heck?! Seriously, murdered?"
Kulani sitting next to me: (Holding my hand so tight as if to say, "If you ask any more follow-up questions, I'm going to squish you like a bug.")
Followed by awkward phrases, silences, and me saying something like, "Can you believe this weather? I don't know about y'all, but this heat is killing me, I mean, uh, it's hot. Hot to trot. Trot, as in horses trot. Did you see that movie about the horse and the little boy?" Nice cover-up.
They should provide classes for key phrases to say when you've found your foot in your mouth.
If I know I have a difficult conversation that I will be facing, I try to practice my dialog beforehand. Recently, I had a conversation with a family member concerning another family member's destructive behavior. The conversation was from love and concern and it was an SOS distress call, but it really helped to think about what I was going to say beforehand. Otherwise, with my mouth, the conversation could have turned to so: "I'm not kidding you. This is the craziest stuff I've ever heard of. You've got to get down there and bust a skull."
Kulani has often warned me to not bring up politics or religion with people. After being burned 1,000 times, I think I've finally learned my lesson. How does Linus put it: "I've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin."
While in Hawaii, I made the mistake of asking our fishing guide, who was professing his born-again Christianity, what his thoughts were on the Rapture. I'd just watched an interesting documentary on it on the History channel. That led to him asking me what my religion was, and after I answered Mormon, it was all over but the fishing. I had to endure hours worth of dialog about why Mormons aren't Christian, why Joseph Smith was a charlatan, and why I'm going to hell. If only I could swim better; I was tempted to jump off the boat in the middle of the ocean and make a swim for it. He finally managed to calm down, and we ended up having a pleasant conversation about the change from within, and how his impetus for change was having a child die.
I'm a journalist by trade, and I like to ask questions. If I happen to enter my personal thoughts into the dialog, it's only to spur additional thought and conversation. The truth is, when I ask questions, I'm interested in dialog and discussion.
However, what I have finally realized is that the question can be as igniting as the discussion. So it's enough. I'm out. I'll talk with you about movies, books, music, family dynamics; maybe not pets--some people think pets are people too; weather, yard work; not so much your views on schooling; weight-loss solutions, the correct way to clean granite, your favorite brand of sneakers, kids, dentists, body odors, old teachers; not Oprah--she's a surprisingly igniting character; your favorite SNL skits, favorite Brady Bunch episode, etc. So as you can see, we still have lots to talk about. But I'm gonna bust your skull if you say your favorite brand of sneakers is Nike.