Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Post No. 149: And Now for Some Motherly Advice

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Mother of one of our Fellows used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all.”

During our Institute position policy meetings, much to the irritation of some, he frequently brings up this childhood notion, as if it advances some important adult interest.

Some of us argue that the public is drawn to content with an edge, and that to draw readers, we should adopt a clear position, or at a minimum, enter the fray.

But our “Mr. Nice Guy” always reminds us that our primary goal is not to take sides, but rather to encourage our readers to view issues differently. After all, “There are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27.™”

For two years, we had a tenant neighbor on our floor in our building. The two partners operating the business, one male and one female, frequently engaged in shouting matches resembling those found at heavyweight boxing championship pre-match weigh-ins.

In fact, there were times when we could have sworn that we heard some punches thrown. Visitors to our suite were justifiably uncomfortable while sitting in our lobby.

On several occasions, prior to contacting building management, we gingerly approached the pair, in an effort to diffuse the clamor, only to have the anger directed toward us, for having dared to “interfere.”

The expletives hurled toward us were comparable to, if not worse than, those which they spewed at each other. They accused us of infringing on their freedom of expression.

Our office lease came up for renewal in early December, and during one of our meetings, we discussed whether we could further tolerate our feuding neighbors. Mr. Nice Guy made several interesting observations.

He said that both the male and the female had to have the last word. He further noted that neither party ever conceded anything or suggested a compromise position, and thus neither learned anything from the other.

To address the situation, he suggested that we invoke what his Mother referred to as the “Doctrine of Unnecessary.” His Mother would have asked the question, “Is it really necessary for us to stay in this space and endure the blood-letting?”

Back in early 2009, out of concern about the incendiary nature of public and political discourse, we posted two articles on anger, the first being Is There a Positive Side to Anger, and the second, That Positive Side of Anger Which So Many of You See.

This past weekend, the world focused its attention on the State of Arizona trying its best to comprehend the attempted assassination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and the murder of numerous others, including a child. The event prompted us to re-visit the articles.

One of our loyal readers, WSteffie (who is from Germany by the way), offered the following comment:

“If everybody would hold their breath, count to [10], think about what exactly the anger is about and then speak, the world would be less violent. I'm just saying that because the problem is not always somebody else. Since we do have the choice of expressing, repressing, or calming our anger, it [might] be wise to first calm our anger.”

Earlier in the day, we wondered why so many talking heads, politicians, and pundits found it “necessary” to immediately weigh in on Arizona’s recent immigration and education battles, gun control and the 2nd Amendment, the Tea Party or Parties, the liberals, the conservatives, and a country run amok - all without anyone really being able to explain the actions of the young man, and armed only with a paucity of the facts.

We imagine that the affected families did not have sufficient time to sort out the events and their emotions, and yet the experts did.

It just seems to us that the responsible pursuit of an explanation is inconsistent with a rush to judgment as to the cause, assuming that a direct cause and effect relationship can even theoretically be established.

And thus we agree with WSteffie, at least to some extent, about counting to 10, and perhaps even 20. But why not consider the application of the Doctrine of Unnecessary?

Those of us not in the business of boosting media ratings, selling sexual lubricants, or getting ourselves or party members elected, might do well to follow a little motherly advice on occasion, and simply say nothing.

To quote the Laughingman, “We don’t have a dog in every fight.”


  1. The Mother of one of our Fellows used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all.”

    One of your fellows is Thumper, the rabbit?

    Setting that aside, and that I agree with the Laughingman (something I find I often do), this was a good take on the aftermath of the Tucson attack.

    And even though I agree with the Laughingman, I also remember the (mis)quote from Edmund Burke

    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

    In discussing this somewhere else, the subject came up as to whether we should should "demand civility" of those around us. I offered that this could easily result in the anger and incivility being turned on yourself.

    We seem to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this issue.

    We believe in civility but we mostly seem to require it of our philosophical or ideological opponents. And here, the "we" is our general culture, not the royal "we" or just you and I.

    It seemed that I first heard that we should avoid using this incident for political gain, promptly followed by just that.

    It was, like the attack on Reagan in 1981, a political act by a madman. To paint it as a metaphor for our times (things like this have happened numerous times in the past) is natural but probably not useful except to exploit it for political purposes.

    In the end, what can we do to prevent, or protect ourselves from, such madmen?

  2. Douglas:

    We missed you. Although we occasionally have different points of view, you always challenge us and from that engagement we always learn something.

    Actually, in this instance, we agree with much you have written. Thanks for the compliment on our take regarding the shootings.

    Several things:

    We were not aware of the attribution to Thumper, and thus looked him up on wikipedia.org. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for that. We'll have to speak to our Fellow concerning the possible copyright violation.

    We actually heard the Edmund Burke quote just last week while watching a History Channel piece on Hitler. It causes one to think. There is always a line to be crossed; it's just a matter of identifying it.

    Earlier this week on PBS, we saw a program about the last year or two of the Civil War, and the Union victories. One of the historians noted that one of the ironies of American democracy is that we think that "the people" rule, and yet we are continually looking for a savior or leader to make our problems go away.

    In America in particular, there is no way to prevent such mad men from inflicting such harm, or to protect ourselves, without simultaneously imposing other restrictions on our freedoms or free exercise. Witness the security restrictions following 9/11 and all of the debate stemming from their imposition.

    We have some decisions to make, with none of them being easy. Ours is the "Great Tension."

  3. Your discussion of anger and the general response to the AZ event is a good read and should give pause to reconsider more thoughtfully just what in the world is going on! I posted my own response soon after the event. I chose to focus on the power of words and their consequences. My quick response was due to a build up in emotions over the last two years as I watched gun-toting participants in rallies and rabid hate speech. Of course, there is no DIRECT cause/effect relationship with the young man's actions, but his imbalance is representative of the emotional unrest present throughout our country. Mark my words, we will have to learn the lesson of civil discourse sooner or later. Of course, we could also decide to have another Revolution!

  4. Dan, you don't really think Loughner is representative of the current unrest, do you? Did you think that John Hinckley was representative of the unrest in the country in 1981?

    How about Squeeky Fromme? Or Sarah Jane Moore?

    Nutcases represent no one but themselves and their own delusions.

  5. Mr. Nice Guy was very observant and hopefully the "Doctrine of Unnecessary" was applied and the lease was not renewed.

    "If you can't say something nice about someone, say nothing at all." Depends on the situation and/or who I talk to. I like to say what's on my mind. However, I will not bother and do that if I know the other person feels the need to be right or is not open to constructive criticism. Good grace would also prevent me to speak up in times of tragedy and grief. Other than that, I think it's only vital to speak up, after all there is a way of saying things?

    Here is a little example from my past:
    I had worked already for a few moth as a CS Rep in a big US corporation and it was the day before Halloween. Near the end of a department meeting my manager asked my what kind of costume I was going to wear the next day to work. My response was: "None, I was hired as a CS rep and not as a clown!" That resulted in overall laughter. Lucky for me, my manager was a woman that appreciated honesty.

  6. Thanks much WSteffie. Arguably, the Doctrine of Unnecessary can be used in a pro-active sense. "Is it really necessary for me to say out loud what I am feeling right now?" It may constitute that 10 seconds about which you previously wrote, when responding to an emotional situation involving anger.

  7. On PBS just a few minutes ago, we saw excerpts of a roundtable discussion with mental health experts discussing Jared Loughner and how he managed to slip through the cracks of our healthcare system.

    We were teased with roughly 5 minutes of an amazing discussion. Check your local listings for the times it will be aired in your area.

    You may be surprised at what these folks have to say.

  8. Thanks much WSteffie. Arguably, the Doctrine of Unnecessary can be used in a pro-active sense. "Is it really necessary for me to say out loud what I am feeling right now?" It may constitute that 10 seconds about which you previously wrote, when responding to an emotional situation involving anger.


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