I once had an acquaintance who happily informed me she was going to DC to work for some liberal advocacy group whose aims I would hope would be thwarted. Did I say that? No, I congratulated her on achieving her career goal and went on from there. In fact, living in Massachusetts, I often encounter people with whom I disagree on many public policy issues (many of them within my own extended family). You might not be able to tell from the blog, but I usually try to avoid rancorous confrontations in real life. I don’t think winning an argument trumps being a friend or being civilized. Certainly, winning doesn’t mean conversion; vanquish your opponent on the field of rhetorical battle and they’re likely only to go away nursing wounds and thoughts of revenge, not how you were right after all.
Neither am I advocating being a shrinking violet, too timid to speak the truth. Thus if I think I have the opportunity to evangelize with a word or action, I will take it.
Another time, when a friend of a friend told me with some glee that he’d had a vasectomy, I did not give him the congratulations and locker-room ribbing he might have expected. I simply said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Children are a great blessing.” That was that. I didn’t berate him or drown him in admonitions. If I had, he would have immediately closed his mind and heart. Instead, he knows my beliefs (he’s not Catholic) and I gave him something to think about.
But we no longer have such discourse in our society. It’s all fiery emotion and angry words and injured self-esteem.
The worst possible sin in society is to tell someone they can’t do something they want to do. The second worst sin is to hurt their feelings. The most treasured “right” (which is really an abuse of the word) is the right to tell someone else whatever I’m feeling right now. And folks aren’t shy about exercising that one.
Look at what passes for public discourse: Late-night political yell-fests, daytime yak-fests, Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump trying to out-insult each other. Ugh! Look at what passes for political discourse: Demonizations of the worst sort on both sides, although I have to say that Bush Derangement Syndrome is worse than any of the Clinton psychoses we saw in the 90s.
What Danielle’s husband’s co-worker should have said was, “Congratulations.” Maybe she could even have added, “My, what a large family.” Instead, all she could think of was herself, damn anyone else’s feelings.
I think we’d all be better off if people said less than half of what they already say and thought twice as much before saying the rest.
Danielle Bean recounts the anecdote of the time when her husband told a female co-worker that they were expecting their fifth child and the woman responded: “I have two kids … And I will not be having another. I’d rather eat glass.” Danielle recalled another recent occasion when a friend of hers, while standing beside her two pre-school children, said that she is “so done” with having children.
We no longer have such discourse in our society. It’s all fiery emotion and angry words and injured self-esteem.
There are two issues here. The first is the prevailing lack of openness to life. I can understand that some people may be frazzled by the responsibilities of parenthood, but to voice such emphatic disgust with the idea of having children—eating glass? really?—is startling.
I’ve often seen parents denigrate their own children as burdens, sometimes to the children themselves. What effect must that have upon the children?
My second impression is how rude our society has become. The correct response when someone gives you news they are excited about is to congratulate them and keep your opinions to yourself.
How not to win friends and influence enemies
Technorati Tags: civility | rudeness | children |