COMMENTARY: If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

Tragic stories and new data on the prevalence and harmfulness of bullying have made us all more sensitive to the ways our words can hurt others – merciless criticism, nasty sarcasm, hurtful nicknames, malicious rumors, and careless gossip.

In Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Joseph Telushkin writes about the moral implications of what we say. He points out that most people choose their clothes more carefully than they choose their words, yet, “Unless you’ve been a victim of terrible physical violence, chances are the worst pains you have suffered in life have come from words.” The simple fact is that what we say about others can not only hurt feelings, it can damage reputations and affect the way the person we talk about is treated or thought of.

So much for sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me.

To prove how often we engage in gossip or negative words, Telushkin challenges his readers to go for 24 hours without saying an unkind word to or about anyone.

Ethical speech – speaking fairly, respectfully, responsibly, and carefully about others – is an easy duty to neglect. Here’s an easy test: ask yourself how the person you’re talking about would feel if he or she overheard the conversation. And would you be willing to say what you said if the object of your gossip was present?

In the end, I was left with a greater appreciation for the advice I’ve heard often but regularly ignore: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 2

  1. Michael,
    Sadly bullying, name calling and gossip have been around for many generations and most of us have experienced it ourselves or have been involved in doing it to others, but one of the reason it has become more difficult for our youth to deal with has to do with the break down of family; many parents are forcing their children to raise themselves, making adult decisions besides having to deal with all the problems associated with growing up. Our youths brains are not ready for so much and they become depressed and discouraged, when you throw in a lack of love at home and many feel like their is no hope and no one cares, throw in issues at school and social circles it just becomes to much; my prayer is lets encourage family to be families; bring back hope to America lets find our roots and believe once again in our creator, who loves us more than we can imagine!!!!

  2. This applies to words, spoken or written, since we now days speak more with our fingers than with our mouths (see what we are doing now). It’s evident in the emails that surfaced recently out of the Sony hacking scandal. Emails with shameful and insulting comments coming from a successful professional. Once said, or written, no turning back. Let’s learn from other people’s mistake.

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