“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” The rule Thumper quotes to his mother is one a lot of us learned young. Keep your mouth shut on the negative things you want to say. On the surface this seems like very good advice. Imagine what the world would look like if this advice was followed. Politicians could only talk about themselves. News anchor would simply report facts. Reality TV would probably cease to exist. It’s an appealing notion. However, simply refusing to give voice to the ugly thoughts in our head is not enough.
I maintain that a better piece of advice would have us try to say something nice. Instead of quietly insulting people in our head, what if we, instead, tried actively to say something nice? It is amazing what we can learn about people if we actively seek to find their good points. We do not have to like someone, or approve of them, but we do have to get to know them well enough to learn that they like to bake, spend every Sunday afternoon with their grandmother, or adore their pet. I have come across any number of people in my life that I do not like or agree with. I find that I can talk to them about their vacations, their children, their gardens, or any number of things that do not bring us into conflict. It is much harder than maintaining silence, but ultimately worth it. Not because my words change the people I do not like, but because they change me. The make me a kinder, happier person who is capable of seeing people as more than someone I don’t like.