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.
IS IT TRUE?
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.
IS IT KIND?
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.
DOES IT BEAR REPEATING?
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!