If I just shut up, I might learn something

I have what I think is a concocted phrase, concocted by me:

Situational learning.

I’ve neither read it, nor heard it and it just popped into my head and I thought I’d use to explain the situation in which I learned something, to wit:

The New Year’s Eve morning spinning class at Hampshire Hills was a late one, except the instructor kept telling us how committed we were for getting an early exercise start.

His early was 8 a.m. Usually, though, the Tuesday morning spin class begins at 5:45 a.m., so his early was my two-hours-plus late. That’s the situation: later spin class.

Here’s what I learned:

Another man, who also usually takes the 5:45 a.m. Tuesday spin class, does so after a breakfast of coffee and grapefruit. This was mentioned by him because we were remarking on our instructor’s congratulations on an early start that we thought was late and Tim said that at least the later start gave him a chance to have a real breakfast and two cups of coffee.

I asked him what he usually had and he mentioned the grapefruit and coffee, although he didn’t say if he had an entire grapefruit or just half.

That is what I learned: That people who slide out of bed somewhere around 4:30 a.m. to get to an exercise class will eat in a manner that some people would consider odd.

I, for instance, and assuming you’re fascinated by this, start my morning at 4 a.m., sliding out of bed and down to the kitchen for a pre-exercise breakfast of:

1 approximate teaspoon of Teddie peanut butter with flax seed.

1 jalapeno pepper slice.

1 cup of coffee.

Then off I go to either a spin class, the treadmill or the pool.

It’s a fine breakfast.

My wife and my daughter would strongly disagree. They have to eat … well, more, before they can exercise.

Now, why am I so impressed with this, with this situational learning? Because it reminded me of something I too often forget and that is to constantly remind myself of this:

Shut up and you might learn something.

Specifically what I mean is, I should shut up and I might learn something.

Shutting up is very difficult for me because I always figure I have something to contribute to ANY conversation. Any. For instance, my idea of absolutely perfect cocktail party guests would be William F. Buckley Jr., William Bennett, Alan Dershowitz, Hillary Clinton, Robert Downey Jr., Phil Ochs and me. You will notice, of course, that two of these people are dead, but that’s not the point. The point is, what a group, what a treat it would be to simply stand among them and LISTEN.

Here’s the problem:

There is no WAY on this planet that I would be able to keep my mouth shut. There I would be, with some great intellects, one looney actor, a singer with a brilliantly leftist point of view, an amazing legal mind, a conservative writer with an actual sense of humor, the eventual first female president of the United States, and an educator with a distinct set of opinions, and I would be opening my mouth to say … What?

Haven’t a clue.

But open my mouth I would and it would be too late to recall the sage advice of Queen Elizabeth, as voiced by Miranda Richardson, to her childhood nurse:

“Mouth is open. Should be closed, nursey.”

Indeed. Sage advice, indeed.

I was reminded of my inability to heed the queen’s advice when I learned of Tim’s breakfast because I was somehow able to just, for once, shut up and listen. The unfortunate aspect of this is that I will almost certainly forget the valuable lesson I recalled at that moment: Shut up, you (I) might learn something.

There is a secondary aspect to this, another valuable reason to remember to shut up and it has nothing to do with learning something new. It has to do with getting out of unpleasant situations without making them more unpleasant.

In such situations, I tend to be argumentative and that always makes things worse. I have learned over the years, and forgotten more often than not, that it is best when the situation is unpleasant to just be quiet, hope that the hour hand on the clock suddenly speeds up, say a pleasant goodbye, go home and be glad you escaped without telling someone your honest opinion of them and their intellectual capabilities, which undoubtedly were nil.

But I try to remember and I especially try to look ahead to a situation I can’t avoid that I suspect or even know will be unpleasant and begin preparing early for it with this mantra:

“Just shut up, just shut up, nod a lot and just shut up.”

I’m working on it.

And looking forward to tomorrow’s pre-exercise breakfast of coffee, jalapeno and peanut butter.

As Sal Paradise said about apple pie a la mode: “Nutritious and delicious.”