“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
My eyeballs automatically rolled back into my head at the recitation of this phrase which my mom repeated to me and my sisters so many times that I swore I’d never say it myself.
Yet a few days ago, as election season crept upon us in all its obnoxiousness, I found myself surprised by the number of negative comments and posts on Facebook regarding candidates, political parties, and ideological viewpoints. Election year seems to bring out the dark side of many normal, happy-go-lucky, non-partisan people. Lately, I find myself wondering if everyone had the benefit of learning the lesson, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Most of my “I will be kind and loving to my sister” sentences resulted from my failure to follow this maxim as a child. Each time, my mom would either lecture me incessantly or dole out the 500-sentences-punishment, which was obviously much worse. My sisters and I never got into physical fights, but we didn’t always get along, either. Resorting to ugly remarks or passive aggressive criticisms was one of my favorite vices. I wasn’t a mean little girl; on the contrary, I was pretty nice. From kindergarten to graduation, I was never sent to the office by a teacher or punished in any way. I generally helped other students as needed and tried to treat them the way I wanted to be treated.
However, I also mastered the knack of mulling over unsavory critical thoughts about people without ever allowing those thoughts to form audible sentences. I may not have SAID anything rude or negative, but I was certainly thinking it. This natural tendency to criticize and judge has only been quelled by constant self-redirection. And the awareness of my need for redirection has only come about as a result of acknowledgement of my own character defects and opportunities for growth. And acknowledgement of my defects and growth opportunities has only occurred due to my improved relationship with God, which evolved slowly over the years, thanks to an anonymous recovery program coupled with plenty of prayer, meditation, and Scripture absorption.
For me, saying nothing at all doesn’t fix the problem. Saying nothing at all is a great starting point–if I take the action, the feelings are more likely to follow. But I’ve found that I tend to sleep better at night and question my own choices less often if I don’t even let myself ruminate on nasty thoughts. Spitting those negative, critical words out while they’re still silent seems to produce a more genuine, loving Bethany. When I find myself prefacing a comment with, “I’m not trying to be mean, but… ,” I know that whatever’s about to slip out of my mouth would be better left unsaid. And if it’d be better left unsaid, then I might not need to be chewing on it so voraciously, either.
Today, I’m more likely than I used to be to think before speaking. I’m less likely to share juicy gossip that is really none of my business. I’m more likely to focus on positive, encouraging topics of conversation. I’m more likely to ask myself these questions before saying what comes to mind: Is it kind? Is it loving? Is it necessary? Is it beneficial?
I’m sure my mom is proud of my progress. I haven’t had to write “I will be kind and loving” sentences in years–thank God :).