When I was still a child my mother often instructed me in the ways of being mannerly before we went to visit someone’s home. Among her routine admonitions was the time worn platitude, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Thus we were more likely to remain silent when we saw something that was not to our liking than to accidentally insult our hosts.
I suppose that it would be prudent to resurrect that old saw in light of the current propensity for commenting on virtually everything that occurs, often with a kind of rancor that has no place in the discussion. Because of the relative anonymity of the worldwide web with it’s platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Snapchat and such far too many individuals feel free to say whatever comes to mind regardless of how unkind the thoughts may be. If a young girl posts a photo of herself in her prom finery invariably someone will take offense and sound off with a negative commentary that is totally inappropriate. Somehow far too many people have come to believe that their opinions matter so much that they must be pronounced regardless of the consequences.
I was watching The Today Show recently and there was a bit of a dust up over a marriage proposal and its appropriateness. It seems that a young woman was receiving her college degree when her boyfriend used the occasion to ask her to marry him. What should have been a double joy for the lady turned into a public debate after she posted the video of the incident online. The images went viral not because people thought that it was sweet, but rather because more than half of those who viewed it wanted to bash the young man for stealing attention from his fiancee’s accomplishment. The comments that followed were unbelievably blunt and accusatory, so much so that the woman at the center of the controversy felt compelled to defend her suitor. In fact she announced that it made a wonderful day even more perfect than it might otherwise have been. In spite of her protests there were still complete strangers who were enraged that the proposal had happened the way it did.
As I listened to the ridiculousness of the story I had to scratch my head in wonderment. I heard my mother’s voice in my head reminding me to bite my tongue unless asked to convey my opinion. I seriously thought that it incredibly bad form for complete strangers to seize what should have been a lovely moment for two people in love to convey their own ideas. My question for them would be, “Who asked you to critique?”
I genuinely believe that if we would revert to old times when simple etiquette was the rule, we might rid ourselves of much of the ugly hurtfulness that so plagues our society. If the young man had wanted anyone’s thoughts on the matter he probably would have inquired, and even then it would have been with people who know him and have some genuine interest in his and his fiancee’s well-being.
On the same day that I heard the story of the proposal gone unintentionally bad, I saw a cute little post on a friend’s wall. It went something like, “A real friend is someone who straightens a loved one’s crooked crown without telling the world.” I like that idea and it is one that I have always followed. It’s embarrassing to have flaws or make mistakes. Such things need not be compounded by public humiliation. There is no worse feeling in the world than having someone make a very big deal about something that should have been only a small moment of assistance.
I would say to those who have been so vehemently and publicly incensed by what they saw to be an unfortunate faux pax with regard to the proposal that it is quite simply none of their business. They have made the matter far worse than it should have been, blighting the young woman’s glorious day in ways that the man who loves her never did. That’s what generally happens when critics publicly impose their tyrannical views. If we are going to straighten crowns it should be done with quiet kindness and out of view.
For many weeks my home was under repair and I had little time for following the news or Twitter or any of those things. I had to limit my social media time to sharing information about my blog and wishing friends and family Happy Birthday. I founds that I was feeling much more optimistic about the world in general than I had been when I was spending time encountering toxic posts and comments that needn’t have been expressed. My happiness meter went wild. Perhaps it is because I had by omission silenced the negativity that is so rampant today.
I suggest that we simply enjoy the images and commentaries of our friends and acquaintances rather than feeling some kind of compulsion to make suggestions or orchestrate critiques. Just be polite and loving. That is really all that anyone ever wants. If we feel the need to remark be certain that it is positive. Only be truthful if the person has genuinely requested ideas. It’s the old fashioned way to be, and it works rather nicely in the long run. It’s time we all took a deep breath and remembered some of those lessons our mamas taught us.