If you don’t have anything nice to say…

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me!” – Truvy, Steel Magnolias

Continuing my Lenten Intentions, I have been spending a lot of time mulling over certain aspects of my life and actions that aren’t especially pleasing to me. For the last week or so, I have been thinking about what I say about people who aren’t present, and what motivates me to talk about some people in ways that aren’t especially kind.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to find herself saying something that isn’t very nice. I usually like to think that I wouldn’t say anything behind someone’s back that I wouldn’t find a nice way to say to their face. But lately, I’ve caught myself bad-mouthing a couple of people and it doesn’t make me feel good. I’ve done some thinking about it, trying to figure out what’s behind it. I’ve come up with a few consistent factors:

1. It’s usually the people I feel the most ambiguous about — people I kinda like, but also kinda don’t like. Or more accurately, people who I generally like, but who have traits that I do not care for, and cannot overcome. When I’m around people who  have already expressed a strong dislike of the person, I find myself indulging my desire to talk about the things I dislike about them more than I usually would. I think it may have a component of sharing. Like, yeah, we both agree that X is X-ish. I’m not flip-flopping on my opinion of the person.  And the conversation never gets into the territory of out-and-out dissing, but it certainly isn’t something I would want person X to know about.

2. I sometimes find myself telling stories about the weaknesses or annoying habits of people I really *do* like. Not as often as #1, but still more often than I feel is appropriate. And I think this is possibly more hurtful than #1, because it is people I really do care about, and wouldn’t want to hurt. I’m still not sure what purpose these stories serve, except that in some ways it makes these people more endearing to me, if that makes sense. We’re all prone to making stupid decisions or hold inconsistent beliefs. But I don’t know what kind of impression this gives to other people. I wouldn’t want the people hearing these stories to judge my silly friends harshly. And that’s what I am afraid is happening.

3. I talk freely about stupid exes and former bosses and coworkers. Frankly, I don’t feel as bad about this, since they were stupid, and probably still are. I doubt anyone I’m talking to would know them anyway, and if they did, they would know exactly what I was talking about. In this case, I’m more worried about how it makes me look when I badmouth someone who isn’t there to defend themselves.

Now that I’m aware of it, I can’t ignore it. And I can’t hold a clear conscience and continue doing it. It’s probably going to be challenging. The best I can hope for is to be present in the moment when I catch myself doing it, and think about my motivation, and maybe come up with a better, more intentional alternative.

Any advice on this would be appreciated. What would you do if you caught yourself saying something unkind about someone?


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