Now ain’t that the truth? (the toothpaste theory!)


“Toothpaste miser”? 

“Toothpaste philosopher”? 

Dub me either. 

Or both.

You see, the miser in me is a guy who squeezes the tube toextract every bit of its contents. I roll the tube bottom up until the paste is pushed out onto my waiting toothbrush. That’s the miser in me. The philosopher in me theorizes that how we manage toothpaste parallels how we conduct ourselves in life;the decisions we make and, good or bad, the consequences of those decisions. Like the toothpaste, once it’s out, it’s out. 

Now before I resolved to move this from theory to paper, I tested this “toothpaste theory” with a childhood friend, today a lawyer. She paused, clearly deep in thought. 

“Yes Terry, I can relate to this and…”

Another pause, I figured to gather herself for a few seconds.  

“This makes me think of the people over the course of my lifewho have extracted toothpaste in the form of time, resources and energy from me before tossing me aside like an empty toothpaste tube. I can never get those things back. “So yes, I can definitely relate to this,” she said through a forced chuckle.

So how else does the toothpaste theory parallel life? Well, let’s run it through a couple of real- life scenarios, shall we.

The first one that we can all relate to in some way is saying – or writing (think email and social media here) – something we later regret. As much as we’d like to, we can’t push those words back into our mouth. Much to our chagrin, once it’s out, it’s out!

Similarly, it’s near impossible sometimes to behave your way out of a bad decision you made and now regret. Just ask the scores of people in prison because of something they did that landed them there. Or an alcoholic or drug addict and the choices they made. (Okay, take a deep breath and conjure up one of your own, one you now regret). Once it’s out, it’s out.

This takes me to a lunch I had with a vice-president of a Fortune 500 company during which he said to me: “I can never regret or take back something I said or did if I never said or actually did it.” 

Let that resonate for a moment. Read it again…..aloud!

Now I had that piece of advice top of mind a few weeks ago when I encountered a situation that could have turned ugly. As I always do, when I exited the bank’s parking lot, I looked both ways to make sure that there was no forthcoming traffic. The coast was clear. Well, so I thought.

Suddenly out of nowhere an advancing car was right on my bumper, its irate driver blaring his horn in anger. Now years ago,I may have rolled down a window and screamed expletivesunprintable in this space at him. But not today because nowadays you do not know what’s inside another driver’s head (alcohol, drugs, etc.) in a space that normally occupies a functioning brain. “Road rage” seems to be the order of the day. 

So although it would have been gratifying, I resisted the urge toflash him a “middle finger salute.” With that vice president’s advice in mind, it did not make sense to risk my appearing as a casualty in the evening news, in an emergency room or – Heavens Forbid– in a local funeral home. Instead, I realized that I had the power to look the other way, to ignore him and I exercised that power. 

In the end, my advice to you, readers, is to maintain your cool when people, in the words of my late mother, “get on your last nerve.” Weigh the risks. Be willing to walk away with hurt feelings but with your body intact. The ability to respond or not to respond, to stay in control resides 100% with you. And never lose sight of those words of advice from that vice president (for ease of reference I repeat them here: “I can never regret or take back something I said or did if I never said or actually did it.)

Oh wait, here’s another piece of advice: Have someone you know – an ill-tempered hothead, a troubled young person, a borderline alcoholic, perhaps – repeat them. And use the ‘toothpaste theory’ (with an actual tube of toothpaste) to facilitate the discussion. It’s simple and effectively makes the point. And above all, it could change the trajectory of his/her life.

Now ain’t that the truth?

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle,, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award and author of the book “Through The Years, the storied history of Black Augusta County Athletes from 1912 to the present.” He can be reached at


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