The Mama Test

I generally don’t follow the drama of Hollywood — who’s sleeping with (or partying with, or dissing, or hitting) whom. The self-absorption that permeates the celebrity culture is gross and I figure my time is much better spent on more lasting and productive things.

So I heard about Kanye West’s rude behavior at an awards show, but I didn’t really care. Besides, I agree with a fellow blogger that the whole thing was probably a publicity stunt. West’s appearance on Jay Leno’s new TV show just a day later seemed especially well timed.

However, in a brief interview with West, Leno asked a question that I don’t believe West expected. He asked West what his deceased mother would have said about the incident. The question left the rapper speechless and the studio silent for an uncomfortable amount of time.

It’s a great question that a lot of people should ask themselves before impulsively expressing the first things that cross their minds. Serena Williams should have asked it before she cursed a line judge at the U.S. Open. Congressman Joe Wilson should have asked it before he called President Obama a liar. Cable TV talk show hosts and guests should ask it before they say the stupid things they’re prone to say that inflame political discussions and further polarize Americans.

Just because we have the freedom to express ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean we should always freely express ourselves. Among the things that separates us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ability to reason, to think at a much higher level. Unfortunately, it seems many people lately give in to their basal instincts and spew out the first thoughts that cross their minds. This does nothing to enhance our communications or to make our points more valid. In fact, such unchecked impulses lead to further strife and dilute our messages. What we have to say might be valid, but the validity gets lost in a medium gone haywire.

It’s interesting that West, Williams and Wilson each apologized for their outbursts. They still believe in what they were trying to express, but they acknowledged that the ways they expressed those beliefs caused more harm than good.

More of us could apply the Mama Test before we attempt to communicate. We’d probably find that our messages are more readily heard.


12 Responses

  1. Depends on who your mama is. My mama used to say, “Your Daddy wouldn’t say shit if he had a mouth full of it.”

  2. Agreed, David. Some people would be better off replacing Mama with some other accountability figure. But the point remains the same.

  3. Narcissism and poor impulse control are a combustible mixture.

  4. I think it works with Dads too, depending on who your dad was. One friend used to tell her teenagers, “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do if dad was in the room.”

  5. Best thing about this blog entry is your use of links. Kudos. Good points and I could verify the Kanye moment easily.

  6. Lorne Michaels says, “Talent and character don’t often inhabit the the same individual.” (or something like that, and he would know).

  7. People and society in general, in my opinion, have become too casual. Respect is out the door. My four-year-old daughter says “please” and “thank you”, and we’re working on “yes ma’am” and “no sir”. I don’t care if you like the president or not, you don’t disrespect him or the office when he is speaking. I’ve played many sports and while I disagreed with calls, I respected the game. Success does not equal the freedom to disrespect other people.

  8. I’m curious about why people resort to outbursts to make their points. Celebrities are big offenders here, but increasingly ordinary people are, too. Witness the town hall meetings on healthcare. I know it’s a volatile topic, but what do people feel they accomplish by just letting go and railing on others? Are media to blame? Is too much attention given to these outbursts?

  9. I am no expert, but I wonder how much society, work and family demands, the economy, etc., plays into this? Not as an excuse, mind you, but stress levels are at an extreme high. Then I wonder if people are just thinking more about what is in their best interest and taking a stand (health care). I don’t know the answer. We will have to keep asking “what else?” before we get to the core truth. However, at a simple level, disrespect can be stopped. Example. remember all of John McEnroe’s outbursts? I don’t recall him ever threatening anyone. And my father would let us know that it was inappropriate.

    Media does play a part as well. I don’t care if Kanye West staged it or not (he was an originally scheduled guest on Leno’s premiere show), but there is no reason that everyone on cable and the Internet had to discuss it at great length. This is why I miss Walter Cronkite.

    We as humans all encounter situations where we want to let loose and let people know what we really think. But you don’t and shouldn’t in certain situations. We all know it. I also think it is something is taught at home. Being famous should not equate to allowing you to be an a@#.

  10. One reason people may be resorting to outbursts is tied to the Mama Test. Mama holds a position of authority, and models behavior. When people seen as leaders – be they members of Congress or celebrities – start flying off the handle, the people who look up to them may start to think that behavior’s okay.

    Media aggravates the situation by calling attention to leaders behaving badly, and also glorifies “speaking your mind” in talk shows and reality shows where folks seem to spend a lot of time being rude to one another.

  11. What a load of cr@$…oops. Okay let’s start again. Brain in gear before mouth–check. Profanity filter on–check. Robert, what a fantastic article. Great job.



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