If you can’t say something nice, keep it to yourself

2010-06-10 00:00

YOU learn early, as a journalist and writer, to nurture a thick skin, to know that criticism of your writing or opinion is not a criticism of your entire personality.

You also learn really early that some people are actually just plain cantankerous and love nothing more than to snipe and snap.

Now that comments on online stories — and not formal letters to the editor — are the way in which readers communicate with writers, I am sometimes appalled at the vitriol, the bitterness, and the pure, unmitigated anger of some of responses to even the most innocuous of the comments. Often it is clear that readers haven’t bothered to read or think about what was writtenproperly and they rip into writers in a sort of frenzy, usually without the courage to identify themselves.

How people love to tear into one another.

Rather like school children do. The chubby boy at school is inelegantly called “Fatso” or “Blubber”. Girls in Grade 2 who don’t write so neatly have this pointed out mercilessly by their friends. Slow runners are mocked. Ten-year-olds who are afraid of the dark are for-ever called “Scaredy Cat”.

I realise that teasing and jibing are part of the landscape of childhood. Saying something as they see it is a child’s special privilege, a way of testing their perceptions and observations in the world. But I honestly believe that it should not be left to fester into an adult belief that it is alright to say ugly things just because one thinks them.

I told my children very early on in life to try to think about what they were about to say and ask themselves if it might be hurtful to someone, and then ask themselves whether it was necessary to say it at all.

I told them they could say anything they wanted to me, no matter how ugly it seemed, but that it was not okay to say it in front of the person they were talking about. This way the person in question would not be unnecessarily hurt, plus we could discuss in private what it was that the children found so off-putting or laughable about that person. Often it presented an opportunity to chat about how people are different, and whether different means less or worthy of derision.

Thinking rude thoughts about other people is part of the human condition. Saying some- thing ugly rises to the surface is simply unevolved. I am not advocating hypocrisy or dis-honesty.

I embrace constructive criticism and honest appraisal by people who know how to speak plainly, but kindly.

I do wish, however, that more adults would learn — like my children have — that if they don’t have anything nice to say about someone, just to keep their mouths closed. And they must teach their children to do the same. — Parent24.

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