“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It is likely that you have been given this advice at one time or another in your life, and probably it came from your mother. I’ll bet Cain and Abel heard it from Eve and I know I heard it from my own mother. The idea is as old as time. In fact, I would say it’s right up there with the Golden Rule in terms of importance when it comes to how we treat others. I passed on this advice to my own children as they were growing up whenever a situation called for it. My sons are now 15 and 19 years old. I am happy to say they are becoming fine young gentlemen and as one would expect by this time, their manners and social graces are deeply ingrained. At this point, I find myself only every so often needing to make gentle reminders about things of this nature. I do, however, remember the occasion on which I introduced my oldest, Christian, to the If You Can’t Say Something Nice Rule*. (*Known from now on as the IYCSSN Rule)
It was 1995. Christian was three years old, very close to turning four, and I was six months pregnant with Jared. We lived by the old adage, “A family that runs around the house in their underwear together, stays together,” so it was not unusual to find Christian close by my side in the mornings as I showered and dressed for the day. It was just another ordinary day and we were together in the bathroom. Christian was sitting behind me on the toilet (lid down) swinging his feet up and down the way kids do when they are seated in a chair and their feet don’t reach the floor. He was watching me and talking and swinging his feet as I leaned forward over the bathroom vanity, stretching as close to the mirror as my pregnant belly allowed, in order to apply some mascara. I hadn’t put on my oh-so fashionable stretch panel maternity jeans yet, so was wearing only a shirt and my panties. Are you forming a mental image? Large pregnant woman precariously leaning forward, consumed with applying mascara, oblivious to the fact that her large panty-only clad butt is precisely at eye level with her young son who is sitting directly behind her. Here’s what transpired.
“Mommy?” Christian queried, staring directly at my butt.
“Mmmmhmmm?” I absentmindedly replied. I was still preoccupied with leaning forward and applying mascara, all the while completely oblivious to the butt situation happening behind me.
“I’m thorry to have to tell you thith, but your butt is pretty big.”
Boy did that get my attention. Releasing my grip on the mascara brush, I watched it leave a trail of brown/black streaks as it grazed the counter and landed in the sink. I slowly turned around to face that small, smiling cherub, head cocked quizzically to one side and still swinging his feet up and down. I carefully formed my response to his evaluation of my current state.
“Christian…” I said.
“If you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. This is an important rule to follow because it helps us not to hurt other people’s feelings. Do you understand?”
“Good. I have one more rule for you, Christian. If you ever think you need to tell a girl something about the way she looks and you feel it’s best to start with ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this,’ it’s probably better not to tell her.”
There are circumstances when one either deliberately or implicitly solicits the opinion of others thereby nullifying the IYCSSN Rule. For example, when I shop for clothing, I may try on a dress and ask my shopping companion how it looks on me. If I am going to spend hard earned cash on something, I don’t want to get home, try it on in good lighting and discover I look like a cow. I expect an honest answer. This is a deliberate solicitation and I thereby waive my right to invoke the IYCSSN Rule. I am not allowed to get mad or be offended. There is one exception. Gentlemen, if your woman asks you if an article of clothing makes her butt look big, the answer is ALWAYS NO. (NOTE: reread story about Christian and IYCSSN Rule). Even if her butt looks big, the answer is NO. If her butt looks so big that she should not be allowed to leave the house, you must still say NO and find an alternate way to address this problem. You might say something like, “Honey, your butt doesn’t look big. In fact you look so good I want to keep you all to myself. How about we stay home tonight, order some Chinese and watch a chick flick?”
The person who feels the IYCSSN Rule does not apply to him or her always surprises me. It was just another ordinary day recently when such a person, a complete stranger in fact, approached me in public and asked me where I got my hair cut. My first inclination was to be flattered. I had just come from having lunch with a friend who’d told me my hair looked particularly nice that day so I assumed this stranger was also paying me a compliment. I smiled and gave her the name of the salon and my stylist. She, a hairdresser herself, then proceeded to guess at the cost of my cut, adding that any amount I’d paid was too much given how it looked and if I went to her salon she could fix the mess. She “fluffed” the back of my hair as she said this as if to emphasize the area of greatest concern. Oh, and by the way she could do it all for around $100.00. WOW! Flabbergasted, I simply said, “Thank you for such a kind offer, “ and went on my way. For two days I thought about that incident with phrases running through my brain like, “the nerve of that woman,” and “she should take a look in the mirror, ” when what I really should have said was, “Didn’t your mother ever tell you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”