Three Questions to Ask BEFORE You Open Your Mouth

There seems to be a problem in the world.  An epidemic.  A plague even.  People everywhere are opening their mouth and saying ridiculous, stupid, offensive things.  This is a problem that effects rich and poor, famous and ordinary, politicians and artists.  It seems to be particularly bad in my office right now.  This is a problem that goes well beyond just sticking your foot in your mouth.  This is willful, deliberate, douchery.

How can we stop this menace of malice?

Well.  Once upon a time, many years ago, I was a teacher’s aide for a class of 27 7th grade girls.  They were all  13 or 14.  They were at that special age when this horrible disease begins to take hold and run rampant.  Our classroom teacher, Mrs. Nash, brought the girls together one day after a particularly virulent streak of nastiness and sat them down to share with them this rule of thumb.  And because some people in this world never seem to grow past the age of 13, I present to you…

Mrs. Nash’s Three Questions to Ask BEFORE You Open Your Mouth:

Is it true?  Is it kind?  Does it bear repeating?

Let’s examine these crucial questions in more detail.


I understand that this question has the potential to trip a lot of people up.  The opposite of true is a lie, right?  It’s easy to not lie.  But is it so easy to only speak the truth?  Hmm.  Take, for example, this gem.  “Business is so slow I bet our company is going to go under and we’ll all be fired.”  Well, it’s not an outright lie.  But guess what?  It’s also not the truth.  It’s negative speculation.  Unless you are directly involved in the business decisions of the company, i.e. an executive, you don’t know why business is slow.  You don’t know if there are plans in place to fix things.  You don’t know that contingencies are in place.  And guess what?  You don’t know the future.  So is your statement true?  No.  It is not.

But, I hear you arguing, if something is wrong then you want to be prepared.  Speculation isn’t a bad thing if it helps you plan for the future.  How is that harmful?

Let us move on to our second question.


I think if we all dig down deep enough we know the answer to this question.  We all know when we’re being just a little bit nasty.  Even a 13 year old girl knows it.  But some people get their jollies from being nasty.  And dude, that’s just not right.  Play nice.

Let’s look at our hypothetical situation again.  “Business is so slow I bet our company is going to go under and we’ll all be fired.”  Is that really a kind thing to say?  Is it kind to make that sort of a speculation when losing a job means losing an income?  Maybe you have a spouse or family that also brings in an income, but maybe you’re saying something like that to a single coworker who has no other means of support and very little savings, for whom losing a job would be a fast-track to all sorts of bad news.  Is it really kind to throw that sort of speculation out there?  You can’t always tell from looking what’s going on inside of any given person or what their particular fears are.  So if what you are about to say is in any way nasty, I beg of you, think twice.  Then don’t say it.

I should also note that it is possible to say things that are true but that are not kind.  “You look fat in those pants”, for example.  True.  Not kind.  Or “That was a stupid thing to say” when someone is already feeling down about being stupid.  True.  Not kind.  Do not say these things!

The third question is a little fuzzier.


Think about it.  Is that thing you are about to say really worth the breath coming out of your lungs?  Is it idle and useless or will it prove constructive and helpful?  A lot of garbage gets repeated, like a rerun of Jersey Shore.  You don’t want to perpetuate that.

Another way to test this question is to take it to the top.  Back to our example.  “Business is so slow that I bet our company is going to go under and we’ll all be fired.”  Now really.  Would you be willing to say that to your boss?  Would you be willing to say that to the president of the company?  No?  Then why are you saying it to your cube-mates?  Does that kind of fantastical negative speculation really bear repeating in a work environment?  Is it in any way constructive?

Didn’t think so.

So let’s review.

Today we have learned that before you open your mouth you should really think about what you are going to say.  You should ask yourself, “Is it true?”, “Is it kind?”, and “Does it bear repeating?”.  We have learned that these are the sorts of things that are told to 13 year old girls when they are being nasty to each other, but that there are plenty of people in the world who still act like 13 year old girls even though they’re older … and male.  We have also learned that Merry is annoyed with some of her coworkers right now and thinks they need to have a sit-down with Mrs. Nash, and because she has a blog she can share this sage advice with everyone.

But it isn’t just about offensive, inconsiderate coworkers.  Guess what, people?  These three questions hold true for just about every situation.  Especially ones that involve potential gossip or smack-talking about someone who you may or may not like.  They hold true for waiting in the check-out line when the cashier is being slow.  They work when you’re at a family function.  These three little questions, when used correctly, can make the world a much, much better place.  So use them!

Okay, people.  Your turn.  Go out there in the world and fight nastiness wherever you find it!

12 thoughts on “Three Questions to Ask BEFORE You Open Your Mouth

  1. Seriously, well said. This particular rule of thumb tends to go ignored even more on the net. I get so aggravated when I hear people claim “it’s the net, what ya gonna do about it” /shrug. Well, I’m gonna make sure I’m not one of the trolls, for starters. I also get extremely irritated when I hear/read various meanie-defenses that are along the lines of “If you’re too sensitive to bear it, leave” in reference to a public or semi-public place. Hands down, guess what meanies, if you’re being mean, I want YOU to leave, not the “overly-sensitive” person you’re picking on. IMO you lost the privilege to a public place with your callous meanie-headedness or outright bullying.

    • Oh my gosh, I have another friend who insists that I need to learn to be more thick-skinned because “the world is like that”. And to that I say Bull Sh!t! A) I don’t think most of the world is like that, and B) it wouldn’t be if people would be a little gentler with each other. I mean, you can either be satisfied with the misery around you or you can seek to change it one kind word at a time. Am I right? 😉

      • You are exactly right!

        Reminds me of a very circular argument I saw on the net in regards to stopping bullying. The non-sense theory took four paragraphs to essentially say we shouldn’t bother stopping bullies because we will all participate in it during our lifetimes, if only as a victim who allows it to happen, and we didn’t stop ourselves, so we have no right to stop others, we should just all accept that we’re all miserable human beings because these things happen and we do nothing. Yep…they just argued that we should keep doing nothing because we’re all miserable people for doing nothing before…


        I agree with both your A and B.

        It’s not that thicker skin is needed because the rude who ignore these rules are much more prevalent, it’s only that they tend to be louder while the rest of us realize the futility of taking the bait in most cases (which would likely lead us much closer to breaking the rules of nice as well).

        Another thing that is not a rule that I hear far too many people saying it’s common: Couples fight. If you’re in a relationship, you will fight. The end. I was amused when a neighbor found out my husband and I never fight, she backed away and said something about cooties in a humorous fashion. We disagree, we agree to disagree, we’ve never raised our voices at each other. We also talk to each other frequently. Yelling/fighting, particularly when name calling and negative accusations become involved, should not be “a given.” It’s like these 3 rules get tossed out the window completely when we consider our “loved ones”

        Of course, everyone reacting to my marriage like that reinforces how lucky my husband and I are with each other. Sometimes we pick mock fights, we don’t call each other names, but we’ll make off-the-wall accusations out of the Twilight Zone (if it were a comedy anyway), or act like the completely positive thing we just hurled at the other was an insult instead.

        Essentially, that last part was added to say:

        Don’t ignore these three rules when it comes to the people you love most and are supposed to support and get support from! In fact, I’d argue that’s when these rules are most important 😀

  2. Sometimes, people on the internet make 13 year-old girls look wise and kind. The best thing to do with trolls is do not feed them. They say what they say to get a reaction, so depriving them of that is the best way to shut them down. Not always easy, I know.

    My response to the troll in question would have been to say “Yes, and I heard you were going to be the first to go.” Whether I would have said that response out loud or in my head would depend on how much they had annoyed me. While I try to be nice, no matter what, outright douchery makes me mean, sometimes.

    • Yeah, I guess it’s the feeling of annonymity that makes people online feel like they can say whatever they want. I can shrug those sorts of things off much more easily than I can face-to-face jerkiness. But as one of my coworkers pointed out about the person who “inspired” this post, he’s the worst kind of jerk because he doesn’t realize that most of what he says is obnoxious. Bless his heart. =P

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