You Can’t Take Back What You’ve Already Said

Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations , Lifehacker’s weekly dip in the pool of stoic wisdom and a guide to using its waters to meditate and improve your life.

The choice this week belongs to Zeno of Cytus quoted by Diogenes Laertius. He reminds us not to understate:

“Better to stumble with your feet than with your tongue.”

Lives of Eminent Philosophers , 7.1.26

What does it mean

If you stumble on your feet, you can get up again and continue your business as usual. We all make these mistakes sometimes. This can be inconvenient, but only if you care a lot about the opinions of others.

If you stumble with your tongue, you release more than just words. You share thoughts, desires, or views that might hurt others. By saying something hurtful, you cannot fix it. There is no way to go back; there is only a request for forgiveness and the hope that they will pull you back.

What to take from there

Think before you speak. Whatever you say, write, or tweet will always be. You can write pages, delete tweets and comments on Facebook, but you cannot get your words out of someone else’s head. So, although one day you may forget why you said such hurtful things, the world will not do it. Don’t forget the previous lesson, which says it’s best not to talk if you don’t know for sure what to say about it . If even a part of your being thinks that what you are about to say is better not to say, keep it to yourself, or at least save it for a more opportune moment when your words will be seen in the right light.

If your hurtful words are already being heard, don’t try to get them to leave or tell people they misunderstood – apologize. Say you’re sorry for what you said, sorry for making them feel, and express your desire to be more considerate in the future. They may disagree, but this is why it is so important that you don’t trip over your tongue.


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