If you don’t have anything nice to say…

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” and “Do unto others as you would have done to you” are two popular phrases-or guidelines- used by parents, teachers, and other grown-ups.  I believe the grand majority of people at least attempt to live by these two principles.  Parents teach these lessons to their children.  Teachers use these lessons against rude or disobedient youngsters.  And, on occasion, we use these phrases against one another when someone says or does something particularly unkind.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to notice that, while most people say and believe these phrases, they really miss some of the less obvious ways to carry them out.  Sometimes comments will slip out that are not the most kind and we use the excuse of, “that’s just how I am” or “Oh, I’m just kidding…sorta…”  And sometimes we ask questions that are none of our business and may not be kind to ask in the first place.

For example, my husband is a pretty thin guy.  Anyone who has ever seen him knows this.  He is about 6 feet tall and probably weighs 160 lbs on the heaviest day of his life.  This is just Josh’s frame.  He doesn’t watch what he eats.  In fact, he eats whatever he wants.  He doesn’t work out, other than the occasional game of softball.  And you know what??  He doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care that he is probably considered “skinny” by many people.  He doesn’t care that he could gain weight by drinking protein shakes and lifting weights.  He doesn’t care.  In fact, there are other people that seem to care more about his weight than he does.

There is one person in his life in particular that never fails to comment on his weight whenever he/she sees him.  This person loves to point out, “Josh you are so thin!”  This person may even make comments like, “Put a little meat on those bones!” or “Here–have seconds.  You could use more food.”  Josh gets so annoyed by these comments, but just ignores it completely.  Josh isn’t good about smiling and pretending to think it’s funny.  He just really doesn’t say anything about it.  It really bothers Josh, though, because he is so tired of hearing it.  In his mind, what business is it of anyone else’s that he is thin???  He thinks, “I don’t ask you or comment about your weight.  And if I did, you wouldn’t like it very much.  Why are you commenting on mine??”  It had gotten to the point that he went to the doctor in college to see if he was too thin.  The doctor said he was within a normal weight range for his height.  He was thrilled to have ammunition for the next time this comment was made.

Recently someone told him that this could reflect badly on me…his wife.  As if to say that I don’t feed him well enough.  I really had to laugh.  I said, “I don’t think your weight has anything to do with me.”  And I really don’t care.  If Josh wanted to gain 50 lbs, I would support him.  If he wants to stay this weight forever I will continue to support him in that.  I really could not care less about how much Josh weighs.  (I did care when I was pregnant and weighed more than he did…but that was a different situation… 🙂 ).  And Josh is right.  What business is it of anyone else’s that he is thin?  Why does anyone else care?  Is it bothering them somehow?  Is it effecting their quality of life?  I highly doubt it.

I have a wonderful friend (who shall remain nameless and has no idea that I’m writing this by the way…) who, for whatever reason, gained more weight than she would have desired during pregnancy.  People would ask her if she was having twins.  When she said, “No.”  They would come back with, “Are you sure??”  OK people…that is just plain STUPID. What on earth would compel you to say something like that!??!?  I don’t care if you’re related or if you don’t know the woman from Eve–it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.  And the inference isn’t very nice.  This same beautiful woman had many other hurtful things said to her by those she loved and I was appalled when I heard about them.  It makes me sick that anyone would think they have a right to negatively comment on someone else’s weight or appearance.

I had no problem disclosing my weight gain for each of my boys.  I really couldn’t care less if people knew how much I weighed.  Even now, I really don’t care.  I find that there are other people in this world that seem to care a heck of a lot more about how much I weigh than I do.  If I gained 10 lbs tomorrow, I wouldn’t care except that it might mean that something is wrong if I gained weight that quickly.  If I lost 5 lbs, I would care just as little.  Again, I might be concerned that something was wrong, but you get the idea.

I did not gain weight quickly with my first son.  I really wasn’t wearing maternity clothes until September and was due in November.  It was just my body.  I wasn’t doing anything unhealthy and was eating a healthy diet.  I actually had people ask these exact questions: “Are you eating??”  (no…I gave it up…),  “Are you healthy??”  (Are you???),  “Are you sure the baby is healthy???  (**Panick**).  Really???  Can we as a society agree to start using some common sense?  Of course I was eating.  Oh my gosh.  Give me a break LOL.  I seriously laugh about that one.  Then asking if the baby and I were healthy?? That’s just plain rude.  Leave that question and answer to my doctor, thank you.

While we’re on the topic of weight, I have to say that it is not the only indicator of health.  Our outward appearance can very much be a reflection of what is going on inside of our bodies, but our genetics really play a huge role.  For example, I know women who eat way healthier than I do and exercise much more regularly who just can’t seem to take off the weight.  I also know men and women who eat like garbage and are total couch potatoes who barely tip the scales at all.  You’d never know that their arteries are clogging up by what they look like.  Either way, I think that questions and comments about weight should be left to a medical professional.  Diet, exercise and weight should be a topic of discussion at annual check ups or physicals regardless of how healthy a person looks.  It should not be a topic of discussion, though, at the family Christmas celebration.

Now, I personally am not usually all that aware of changes in someone’s weight.  I’m not saying that I’m blind.  I’m just saying that I rarely remember exactly what someone looked like enough to compare it in my brain to what they look like now.  For example, I have a dear friend that had weight loss surgery quite a while back.  I had met her a few times before her surgery and our paths split.  We met again about 6 months or so after her surgery and a significant amount of weight loss.  To be completely honest, I didn’t notice.  Now, someone may take offense to that.  But in my own defense, I would notice if I saw a picture of before and then compared it to now.  I mean, I’m not blind.  It’s just that my brain isn’t processing that as a part of my memory for whatever reason.  I also have a friend who apparently gained like 10 pounds in a week or something…and I really didn’t notice.  I felt bad because I wasn’t trying to say that I thought she was heavier before…because she felt like she changed.  But I just didn’t notice.  Again, maybe I’d notice it in a picture…but not in my memory.  So, if you lose a significant amount of weight and I don’t say, “You look awesome!”  then please don’t take offense.  It’s not that you don’t look awesome…I just don’t notice things like that very quickly unless you show me a picture…

Let’s go beyond weight for a second.  Josh has two cousins that have extremely different heights from one another.  While I don’t remember their exact measurements, one is like 6’9″ or something like that…very tall.  The other is like 4’9″ or something like that…pretty short.  And you know they get so many comments.  So many people come up to them and state the obvious: “You’re so tall” or “You’re so short!”  This may not sound like a big deal to people of average height…but it is annoying to people who are very tall or very short.  Has anyone stopped to think that they may be self-conscious about their heights??  That would be like going up to someone who is just naturally extremely thin and saying, “Oh my gosh!  You are so thin!”  Or someone who is overweight and has some type of medical disorder and saying, “Oh my gosh!  You are so heavy!”  It’s not something they can control and it is annoying to hear someone state the obvious all the time.  Again…to someone of average height, they may feel like they’re giving a compliment or admiring the altitude of this incredibly tall person.  But to him or her, it may not be appreciated.

While were on  perceived compliments…I know a woman who has had two children and probably weighs less now than she did before kids.  I’m not sure if her diet has changed or if it is her activity level with two kids.  It is really  none of my business and I’ve never asked.  Anyway, she has gotten so many comments like, “Wow!  You look great!  You look better than you did before kids!”  While this may sound like a nice compliment, it doesn’t always feel like one to some people.  This particular woman now feels self conscious about what she looked like before having babies.  A simple comment like, “You look beautiful!”  or “You look great!” would be more than sufficient to compliment a woman.  Let’s not add in the “as opposed to before…” type of comment.

Now, I know I’ve focused so much on weight here, but the question goes along so many other topics like finances, jobs, family, marriage, friends…really so many things.  Sometimes people have the audacity to ask how much you make or how much some item cost you.  That can be rude.  And they don’t always give you a way out of answering without sounding rude yourself.  Or they may make a comment about something in your life or marriage that you don’t necessarily disagree with, but isn’t any of their business.

I was talking to my mother-in-law about this topic and she said that they have had both ends of the spectrum in their lives.  For example, her parents never asked and never disclosed how much they spent on an item.  If someone asked they would simply say, “I bought it at Sears.  You can check it out there if you’d like” or some other similar response.  Then there were other people that always asked my in-laws about how much they spent on something–a car, their home, a gadget, a trip…etc.  Sometimes it’s a fair questions for someone who is really trying to research and gather information.  They could say, “Hey..I’m thinking about buying a house in Rancho.  Do you mind if I ask how much yours was?  I love your neighborhood.”  That frees up the response possibilities from a direct, “Our house was $—” to a more indirect, “Well, I know that houses in our neighborhood seem to cost between $—  to $— these days.  I know that they get pricier as you travel further towards the mountains and  little less as you get closer to neighboring cities” or something like that.

So I suppose, what I’m saying is that some questions can be asked if it’s truly gathering information rather than being nosy.  If a woman who just had a baby asked me, “How long did it take you to lose the baby weight?” I would not be offended because she’s trying to gauge how long it might take her to lose the weight.  She’s trying to find a time frame.  But if it is my nosy neighbor saying, “So, how long did it take you to lose the baby weight?”  Then she is just being nosy.  For me, I’d still answer the question because I don’t care.  But some people care…a lot.  So don’t ask.  In the same idea, if someone came and asked me, “How much do you guys pay in rent?  We’re thinking about living in Riverside and we just don’t know what to expect.”  Then I could find out information from them about what they’re looking for and then tell them what they might expect to pay.  If you’re asking just to be nosy or to try to figure out our income by doing a little math, then that’s annoying.  So don’t ask.

In all honesty, I believe that people make these comments or ask these questions because it is something that bothers them about themselves so much so they notice it in other people.  For example, someone who is consistently commenting on how much weight you’ve gained or lost probably cares very much about how much they weigh themselves.  If they comment on how you spend your money or ask about how much something cost, money is probably something they think about a lot.  If they ask you about problems in your marriage or make negative comments about your marriage, then they may be insecure in their marriages as well.  Of course, this isn’t necessarily everyone, but I think a lot of people are like this.  They are so very aware of this particular facet of their own lives that it makes them extra sensitive to the same issue in other peoples’ lives.  And because humans like to project their thoughts or feelings onto others, they assume that you care just as much about it as they do.

So…how do we combat these kinds of comments or questions?  I’m really not sure.  I’d love to hear ideas from you, though.  I would really like to know how to respond to someone when they ask a question that I really don’t feel is any of their business.  Of course, I want to attempt to be polite, but make my feelings about it clear at the same time.  I don’t want to respond unkindly…but is suffering through the line of questioning or list of comments really necessary?  I sure hope not.

While we wait for some great ideas as to how to respond or cope…let’s just agree to not ask those types of questions…or at least provide a way out by saying, “You really don’t have to answer” or “Do you mind if I ask…???”  Better yet, let’s start to ask ourselves, “how would I feel if he/she asked me the exact same question or said the exact same comment to me??”…but I don’t want people walking on egg shells either.  Balance would be nice.  Don’t you think?

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2 thoughts on “If you don’t have anything nice to say…

  1. Each time i was pregnant the most popular comment i got was, “Is there twins in there?” and “are you due like tomorrow?” (even though i always had like 2-3 months left). I always got huge with both my babies, i gained 45 pounds with both of them and since i am small to begin with i just looked ginormous being pregnant. With my first baby it kinda hurt and i felt like maybe i was doing something wrong…but as time went on i just decided that everyone’s body is different. Some people are skinny and pregnant, some are ginormous, who knows what normal is anyways?? I knew i would be just as large with my second baby and i didn’t care because i know what i eat and that i am truly healthy….i even blog about what i eat! Anyways im sure i am guilty of saying inappropriate things to others as well. But i just don’t ask people about weight because thats just not something thats my business and if ppl want to share it themselves then thats fine. Just balancing is key …i agree 🙂

  2. I really like the idea of telling people where you bought something and that they can research it themselves. I will answer the question but I usually ask them why they want to know first. Some people are nosy, and they want to know how we spend our money and I don’t answer. But if they are looking for a place and really like our complex or something, I will give them the answer but I usually round it up or down, whichever is closer. I don’t care to let people in my business that much unless they are a dear friend. I know that I’ve asked friends what they pay in rent or utilities so that I can get a ball park estimate of what rent is in that area or if I should try to convince my internet or cable provider to lower my bill. Thankfully I haven’t gotten a lot of comments about my pregnancy, I’m sure that if I did I would be tempted to punch them in the face unless it’s because they are telling me I’m beautiful. That seems to be my knee jerk response lately :-/

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