I think every child in the history of ever heard their parents tell them multiple times 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all'. I know I heard it quite frequently being said by my frazzled mother to myself and my brother and sister after we had gotten into yet another verbal sparring match. Believe me there were ample opportunities for my mother to use this phrase on us.
All in all it is a fairly good rule to live by. Saying ugly things really doesn't get you anywhere. It is normally not constructive and though it may feel good to say it at the moment it rarely feels all that great in retrospect. Hindsight can be an ugly ugly thing.
At the same time though I often find myself, and hearing other people saying things like 'don't they have any friends' when confronted with someone doing something very poorly in public. I look at people every weekend at faire who have made their own costumes or obviously put a lot of thought into what they are wearing and all I can think is that their friends must not like them very much to let them go out in public like that.
I have the same reaction when watching things like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance auditions. Some of the people are genuinely talented. Some of the people are good but not great. Some of the people are just down right bad. All too often these people who are really bad are accompanied by family members, friends, and loved ones who insist up and down that they are an amazing singer/dancer and that the judges have to be insane not to see it.
Every so often I think that the judges got it wrong, but that is coming from a slightly tone deaf girl who has no sense of rhythm. What do I really know about music and dance? Not a lot. So I am not as qualified to say what is really good for shows like this. Most of the time though it doesn't take a musical based lifeform to know that these people are bad.
Still these people are told by people who care for them that they are amazing. They are told by people who have their best interest at heart that they should go out in public or onto national television and display the hot mess that they are for all the world to see and judge. That doesn't sound like good friends to me.
I would want my friends to tell me the truth. I mean I know I can't sing or dance so I am in no danger of putting myself on a national platform to be ridiculed, but if I were delusional I would want someone to tell me that it was a bad idea. I wouldn't want to embarrass myself like that just because my friends didn't want to hurt my feelings.
We just aren't typically raised to tell people things like that. We are raised to be nice and to spare peoples feelings. We are raised to tell little white lies in the name of kindness. We all do it most every day. We tell people their hair looks great when it doesn't. We tell them they are looking thinner when they aren't. We tell them that what they have baked tastes wonderful. What they made is lovely. What they performed was brilliant.
It is a slippery slope.
Telling your kid that their song at the school talent show was good when in reality it was a pitchy mess that would make dogs run is not a bad thing. I mean you don't want to discourage them from learning and trying. But you tell them they are brilliant today and in five years they are asking you to drive them to American Idol auditions, and how are you going to say no? I mean you have always told them they are great but suddenly you don't want them to step out there and try for something big? Yea that conversation won't go over well.
Of course as much as honesty is considered the best policy, and we want people to be honest with us, no one likes an honest person. Honest people are labeled as cruel bullies. We call them bitches and assholes. We think that they are just mean spirited. We don't appreciate them or what they have to say in the least, no matter how good their intentions are. Society wants to be lied to.
I am lucky in the fact that I have several friends who are brutally honest and I love them for that. I know that they are never blowing smoke up my ass. I know that if I honestly ask them their opinion I will get it with no sugar coating. It is sometimes hard to swallow, but I do appreciate it.
I wish I could say that I am good about being honest with people all the time, but I am not. I am as guilty as anyone else of telling people the little white lies to spare their feelings. I have eaten food I hate and smiled the entire time. I have told people their new hair cut is cute when it makes them look bad. I have told people their babies and dogs were cute when they are anything but.
Still I would like to think that these small indiscretions are kindnesses that will not hurt anything in the long run. I am not letting my friends go out in public dressed badly, and I am not letting them put themselves on national television only to be ridiculed and torn down.
It is a delicate balance that we all have to maintain. I just have to keep hoping I am good at this balancing act.