During World War Two, the US Office of War Information ran a public service campaign warning citizens that gossip concerning the war effort such as where family members were stationed could get back to the enemy. Ostensibly, the government was concerned that if Nazi agents or sympathizers got a hold of information, any information, it could result in losses in material and personnel.
Most historians agree that the primary purpose of the campaign and its message (i.e., “Loose lips sink ships”) was not to quelch rumors about troop or ship movements but to shore up public morale. The ship that the government was afraid would sink wasn’t an actual destroyer but the ship of state. Their concern was valid, since any ship of state can rise and fall on public sentiment. In this sense, loose lips and rumors can sink ships.
Lips and the things that come out of them can influence social and political issues, but that is not all. They also affect individuals and individual happiness. Think of the things you have said to others in anger, fear, jealousy, or some other rush of emotion. Once they pass your lips, you can’t swallow them back again.
One of the tasks of adulthood and the maturing process is to learn self discipline, a key component of which is controlling the tongue. Not so easy, that. It is the work of a lifetime.
This reminds me of the prayer recited during the offertory in the old Latin Mass: “Set a watch, oh, Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips: that my heart may not incline to evil words: to make excuses for sin.” Here is an expressed need for a custodian to guard our mouths and a gate (ostium) to close against our lips. An appeal is made to God for both, since we are incapable of doing it ourselves.
There exists another aspect of controlling our lips that is just as important, maybe more so, since it involves our health. After all, you can’t be too virtuous if you’re dead.
The things that we put past our lips by way of food and drink strengthen or weaken us. Diet is such a fundamental part of maintaining health that even exercise experts admit that 80 percent of fitness has to do with diet rather than pumping iron.
Sure, walk whenever you can, take the stairs, sign up for CrossFit, but if you eat like Guy Fieri on the Food Network, you’ll gain weight and your arteries will clog. Then again, if you have a job like his, driving around the country and eating deli food for free, mazel tov! It’s nice work if you can get it.
It is curious to think that life can be controlled by the lips. Of course, we are really talking about the mind in the same way that we speak about the heart as the center of feelings. Neither lips nor heart serve any purpose beyond their physiological ones, although I am not sure what lips do. Kissing is nice; speech, too. Maybe lips protect our teeth. Or maybe they and not the eyes are the gateway to the soul.
I have made it a point this week to be mindful of what goes past my lips in either direction. If I have been successful, it is only because five o’clock comes around and I realize I never ate lunch. That has happened several times. I like to think of it as fasting.
I also focus on work and the tasks at hand, which is not to say that people are not important. Certainly they are. Business is about relationships. But, in the spirit of the offertory prayer, business meetings also require a “door” round about our lips. This means letting others do most of the talking. The key is learning to listen and liking it. I’m still surprised by what people are willing to disclose quite happily.
Biologists categorize human lips, labia oris, as an organ. As such, they may be the most important organ in the body. If tightening them is the secret to happiness, why don’t we see more books about that, about character? Is it any easier to go on a keto diet?
I can’t promise to monitor every word or calorie that passes by my lips. I’ll just try to sink fewer ships this week than last.
It’s the best I can do.