Friday, December 31, 2010

To Spill Or Not To Spill The Tea

Words are the containers we use to carry our fragile thoughts and ideas from ourselves to others. Once we put our thoughts into words, they no longer exist within the private domain of our individual craniums. The words we share become as public as the audience who hears and sees them.

What's In Your Cup?

Words also flow in a stream and have the capacity to spill over based on the carrier. Growing up, my elders taught me that "whatever is in you will come out." In particular, my maternal grandfather, a gifted and eloquent speaker, admonished us children to pay especially close attention to a person's words. I recall him saying that "you hear a person's heart through his mouth. When it's time [to speak], you don't have to say everything because it's not their business. But when you need to say something, speak up!" Because of our relationship and how I observed my grandfather live behind the scenes, the words he spoke carried considerable weight. Consequently, I speak up.

Speaking up, however, is as different from spilling as pouring hot tea into a tea cup is from pouring hot tea into someone else's lap. Both share the same tea. The outcome yields two results: the tea cup produces a smile and the lap produces a hot mess literally. Let us use our words as carefully as if we were pouring hot tea and stop pouring them out before the cup overflows.

Tea Vernacular

Tea and words interwine within different cultures with astonishingly varied meanings. For example, isn't it odd how the current expression "spilling the tea" is now American slang for spreading gossip? As a native Philadelphian and unapologetic tea aficionado, I must protest such tea misappropriation.

In Middle Eastern countries, tea is offered to every guest and served by holding a metal teapot filled with steaming hot liquid held aloft. While mid-air, the tea is then poured into a small glass via a graceful arc. Yes, this takes strength and skill as the host takes great care not to waste a drop of tea. Certainly spilling scalding hot tea onto one's guests is not a welcoming gesture. For the record, spilling tea is not an American past time.

Tea is a sign of hospitality and welcome where someone can come, take a break, and relax from the journey. Every host takes responsibility for each guest's comfort and safety; the guest trusts the host to do so or the invitation is declined. So, spilling tea is not only rude but it violates the sacred trust that tea creates. In addition, tea generates conversation where people feel it is safe to share their words and their hearts. So, no spilling the tea here. What's put in the cup stays in the cup. That is, of course, until the first sip.

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