In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”
Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”
A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.
Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.
Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.
Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.
I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.
As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.
Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.
May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!