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Thursday, July 1, 2010

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

It was often a phrase administered over the back of the station wagon seat,
and I hated it.

I mean, sometimes you just really want to let your dumb little sister know how stupid she is! I tried, "But she started it, Mom!" I tried repetitious huffing and puffing and glaring "hideously threateningly" at her. I tried staring out the window and refusing to be a part of the family. (I was not one of THEM. They were all so stupid!) But nothing fixed it. Absolutely nothing fixed the need to cover my little sister with the liberally applied slime-coat of poisonous, absolutely factual and completely deserved, verbal diminishment of "YOU'RE SO STUPID!" delivered with all the vehemence I could posses.

I never got the chance.
We didn't say such things in our family.

I mean, she was just SO annoying! She sat there on her side of the car, cherubic, sweet as a gumdrop, without a mean bone in her body while I was mustering up every Wile E. Coyote caper I could think of that might assist me in producing her demise...or at least wipe that sweet, top of the pecking-order grin off her face. She was the good one. She knew it. I knew it. Everyone knew it. We lived a childhood of smiles at the Olan Mills man proving it. She was the good one, the easy one to raise, the YOUNGEST...

And I adored her.

We were genuinely closer than most sisters as we grew up. We really were. And in absolute fact, we seldom argued. Strange as it may seem, we just liked each other. Those few moments when I might have wished to blast her with a familial "you're stupid" or some other equally sentimental phrase, I was chastened by family law, and my own genuine admiration for her. She really was a great little sister. I liked her.

So, what ever happened to that particular phrase in public discourse? "If you can't say something nice, just don't say anything at all." Annoying little phrase that it is, it served our generation well. It certainly saved me from the horror of having blurted out those things I sometimes thought at my sister, and then having to live with them forever. I know other's moms used the old addendum to the Golden Rule too, because in the years before I reached adulthood, being polite was still a virtue. Being thoughtful about what you said before you said it, was encouraged. Why, I can even remember when men were expected to take their hats off before going into a building! That's how old I am! But not anymore. At least not anymore, for those above the age of two. Once the broadcast gurus plug our children in for us to a cosmos of caustic disrespect, it's all over. No one has any obligation to be polite to anyone ever again. (Watch a half hour of Nick and see what I mean.) Even the human characters of Sesame Street are not infrequent practitioners of the "oh, puleeze" eye roll directed at their furry counterparts. Catch on people, we're all lots STUPIDER than we used to be! At least that's impression we are all being given.

I am increasingly amazed, and I know you've had this conversation too, by the appallingly coarse, disgraceful, foul, humiliating, indelicate, loathsome, mean, obnoxious, offensive, repugnant, shocking, sordid, vicious, wretched discourse our culture has claimed as acceptable. No one seems to be the slightest bit discomforted by following the impulse to out the worst vile-filled comeuppance that they can muster, regardless of circumstance or the recipient. ("Anyway, anyhow, anywhere I choose" to quote a famous phrase from The Who.) Everyone is a candidate. No one is free from the honor of being formally dissed on a frequent basis. Not the President. Not the Pope. Not God Him/Herself. It's an active contagion, and we've all caught the bug.

I cannot plead innocence myself. I've had a problem with "taming the tongue" on more occasions that I prefer to mention here. But I also have a thought, that maybe, just maybe, if we chose to clear a space, a time, an occasion, a screen, a bit of air and electrons, and claimed that THIS would be the space, where gentleness of spirit would prevail... This would be the space where word choice would matter, and sarcasm would be at no one's expense... This would be the time for sharing a better word, with more patience and more sensitivity than the rest of the world demands of us...I think a person or two might just like to be in this place with me. I think that maybe we might even start sewing patches on some worn-out souls with threads of grace.

That's the thought I have anyway.

I would like this blog to be less about me and more about the little things of the world that are truly valuable and wise. I would like to have dialogues here that are free from condescension, full of opportunity to try a different way to be, and provide space for everyone who wants to gather in a genuine place to be together. I'm not much of a lemming-thinker, and I don't think that you should feel required of anyone to think or act in a culturally proscribed way. I would much prefer you brought the real you, the created, creative, creator-you to the airspace and opened that with us gently... for your sake as well as for all of ours. As I am the maker of this blog, I will take the responsibility to do the hopefully unnecessary violent thing if it is called for, and delete conversation that is disrespectful in any way to the thoughts and feelings of those gathered here. That's the extent of what I have to say about that. No apologies.

My grandmother's homes were full of good things to eat. I seldom cook. My grandmother's chores were wholesome and repetitive. I seldom have two days alike. My grandmother's dreams were real, and they stitched them into everything they sewed. I have dreams, and have no idea if I will ever live to achieve them, but if I can create a space here, like a grandmother's home where the cookies taste better, the smells are sweeter, and the routines are more familiar, then I will feel I have done at least one thing good for you and for me. I welcome you. Shalom.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Jennifer, I'm so glad to "meet" you! I am a big fan of Wile E. Coyote, you know. So we should get along perfectly. I agree with you about the lack of grace we see in the world today. Anything goes, doesn't it? It is a shame. I'm going to have to resurrect this little saying in my house: If you can't say anything nice...