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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thumper ... Revisited

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Growing up, most of us were taught some version of Thumper's famous line from Bambi: "If you can't say somethin' nice ... don't say nothin' at all." Unfortunately, as we get older, all of us find ways to circumvent Thumper's advice. However, very few people want to be thought of as being "that person" who says unkind things, so we develop all kinds of prefaces in the hopes of somehow excusing what follows: "No offense, but..." "Don't take this the wrong way, but..." "I don't want to sound mean/judgmental/racist/rude, but..." The problem with all of those prefaces, however, is the fact that almost inevitably whatever comes next does the very thing that the speaker wanted to avoid. The words that follow are going to be offensive, will be taken harshly, or will sound mean/judgmental/racist/rude. And no amount of pleading that a disclaimer was given beforehand can change those reactions.

I am not proud of it, but I have used some of those very prefaces myself. I can't, of course, be sure as to why other people use them, but I do know that in my case it was always as a way to give myself some sort of permission to say whatever thing I wanted to say in the first place. The very fact that I included any sort of preface at all, warning the hearer not to be offended or that I didn't want to sound mean, was itself proof of the fact that I knew that what I was about to say violated the "if you can't say something nice" rule.

The fact of the matter is that nice words don't need a preface. People do not accidentally get offended when my words are truly kind and loving. No one is going to accuse me of being rude, judgmental, or racist if what comes out of my mouth is loving and not hateful. When my words have been used to build up, instead of tearing down, I've not ever had someone say that I was being mean.

It's really not that difficult. We've known since kindergarten how to share, how to play nice, and how to use our good words when we interact with others. And, we also learned pretty early on that there are times when we don't always want to share, play nice, or use our good words. It has taken a while, but I think I'm also beginning to learn that part of being a grown up is to share, play nice, and use good words even when I don't particularly want to ... or if I simply can't bring myself to play nice, to at least excuse myself and just keep quiet when I don't have anything nice to say.

So, I'm trying (though not always succeeding) to incorporate some additions to the Thumper rule into my everyday life and ask myself before I speak whether what I am about to say is necessary to the conversation. Am I attempting to offer needed information, build others up, lend encouragement? Could what I am going to say hurt someone else, be taken as a slight, give rise to gossip?

Like I said, I am not always successful, but in trying to remember to ask myself these kinds of questions, I have been humbled to discover all the times where I've been perfectly willing to abandon Thumper's sage words so that I could be "right" or seem to have control over a situation.

The older I get, the more I am struck by the fact that we learn almost all of life's essential lessons when we are very young. Them, it seems that it takes a lifetime to figure out how important those lessons are and to effectively put them into practice.

For now, I am working on taking the words of an animated rabbit to heart, and keeping quiet unless I have something nice to say.