Mama always cautioned me about speaking ill of others.
Gossiping and toting tales were big no-no’s according to her.
“If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” she would say.
I would roll my eyes.
I was a youngster and knew what the nursery rhyme said on the matter: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
But for Mama, words were a pretty big deal and were shrouded in “don’ts.”
“Don’t say things that aren’t true. And sometimes, not saying or correcting what was said is just as bad because you are contributing to the problem.
“Don’t repeat things just because you heard them – it may be a lie you’re repeating.
“Don’t talk bad about people, especially to someone else; more than likely, you’ll be talking to their kin folks and they won’t appreciate it.
“Don’t say anything about someone you wouldn’t say to their face.”
And of course, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
Now, her words felt like she was imposing some terrible punishment on me. They were words, right? Words don’t hurt.
But our words have so much power.
And words, even though they don’t break bones, can hurt far worse.
I neglected Mama’s heeding in all those areas and ended up causing myself a lot of drama, and others, a lot of pain.
I learned my lessons the hard way – I made the goof up’s and paid for them.
There’s nothing like seeing the face of someone you have said something about and seeing their hurt.
Knowing you caused someone else pain may be fun for some people out there, but not me.
I apologized profusely but knew my words could not be unsaid. Once they were uttered, they could not be taken back and they had hurt another person.
“I apologized, but it didn’t matter,” I had explained to Mama.
Mama listened to my complaint in silence – one of the few times she let me carry on and wail uninterrupted.
If anything, she would quickly interject her: “I told you this was going to happen, I told you, I told you, and you didn’t listen!”
Instead, she listened quietly before she asked, “Were you sorry you said it, or sorry you were caught?”
Truthfully, the answer was “both.”
I grew wiser and more cautious with my words, understanding the power they can yield.
I’ve even added some wisdom of my own: Is it necessary? Does it hurt? Does it help? If the answer to those three questions is no, I have been keeping my mouth shut.
And my fingers from commenting on many a thing.
Because now, our words go beyond what is just said behind someone’s back.
Our words can be used on public forums to spread gossip and rumors and things no one knows the first thing about.
It’s not like the day of yore when people would just talk on their phones in their homes about everyone. Or in the grocery store, or where ever they happened to be.
Now, they feel free to share their interpretations of events of which they have no intimate knowledge online.
Ironically, those who know the least are the most vocal in every situation.
Granny did always call the Internet the modern fool’s party line.
Maybe she was right.
I’ve never been a fan of rumors and now, I find gossip as distasteful as Mama.
Hearing someone suffering poor circumstances does not make me happy; it makes me feel dirty and ill, like I just swallowed a rotten egg.
I’ve learned to temper my conversation with compassion and understanding – that’s not to say I don’t have my opinions, because I do, I just feel like what I think about someone is my business and no one else’s.
Not everyone feels that way, unfortunately. And some folks feel like everyone needs to know what they think about everything-especially if it’s unnecessary, hurtful and unhelpful.
Mama’s words would urge me to find something pleasant or not speak.
Mama took the path of politeness and social boundaries. But what about those who kept talking even when it wasn’t nice?
“Tell them to shut it,” is what Granny would suggest. “What’s up with all this ‘be nice’ mess? If someone ain’t got nothing nice to say, and all they can do is run their mouth saying a bunch of lies and nonsense, tell ‘em to shut it. Shut it up tight! Tell ‘em to shut it, or you’ll shut it for ‘em!”
Mama’s method may be the more genteel, polite way of dealing with things, but I have to say, Granny’s is a lot more effective.