I read a story recently about the perception of Americans by Europeans. One of the things they said was that Americans are always trying to put a positive spin on everything. I think they’re right. We’ve softened our language, deflated it, and taken it to the point that Americans no longer say what they mean. It’s gone so far in some cases that we say the opposite of what we mean. We now often talk in code, the real meaning screened because, after all, it’s not trendy to make negative comments.
An old joke captures the phony optimism of many Americans. A little boy and girl came down the stairs on Christmas morning and ran to the tree to open their presents, but the only thing under the tree was a pile of horse poop. The little boy was disappointed but the little girl started running around excitedly. The little boy asked her why she was acting so crazy. “If there’s horse poop, there must be a pony around here somewhere,” she said. It seems like Americans often try to find a positive in any situation, even if the possibility is remote and unrealistic.
Here’s another example: On the house hunting shows on HG tv, prospective home buyers doing a walk-through often say something like, “I’m not sure I love the wallpaper.” I’ve heard some variation on that kind of statement over and over. Translation: “I don’t like the wallpaper.” Simple, straightforward, and there’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t like wallpaper. Saying you don’t know if you love it is dishonest. You know you don’t love it. You don’t even like it and that’s not even the issue. Love doesn’t come into it at all. It’s about your personal taste., what you want to live with every day, and you have every right to have things the way you want. You’re not hurting anybody’s feelings by saying you don’t like the paint color, or even if you say you hate it. Nobody will cry. Just say what you mean.
Here’s another one I’ve seen ad nauseum in movies, tv shows and even in commercials. Two people are on a date and maybe it’s not going so well, One of them mentions he or she has an early day tomorrow. Translation: This isn’t going well and I want to leave now. My wife told me when guys used to ask her out on dates, she would tell them she couldn’t because she had to wash her hair. I know what’s going on in these interpersonal spaces. People are trying to let each other down easy, to not cause hurt feelings. But you think when anyone utters those code words about having an early day tomorrow, the other person knows exactly what they’re saying? Wouldn’t it be more honest to just say something like, I don’t think this is going to work out, which is what you’re really thinking. Everybody who’s been out there on the first date battlefield has been rejected and knows that’s just how it goes. Just say what you mean.
A man from the deep south told me an old story that illustrates my point perfectly. He and his family had gone to town on a Saturday to shop and recreate. While in town, they somehow met and got involved with a young guy they’d never known before. The young man spent the day with the family. In a fashion typical of southern hospitality, when the family was ready to go home, they said to the young guy, “Come home with us.” This invitation is about as insincere as they come, and the correct response in the south is “No, you come home with me.” But that’s not how this young man replied. He said, “I think I will,” and did go home with them and spent several days. That’s the kind of boondoggle you can get in when you say things you don’t mean.
Of course, there are times you shouldn’t be honest or direct. When your mate has spent lots of time getting ready for a big event and asks you how he or she looks, you better say they look good, even when they don’t. If a child asks you if he or she could be president of the U.S., or an astronaut, or a princess. you should say yes. If your wife, girlfriend, daughter, or really any woman asks you if you think she’s pretty, find a way to answer in the affirmative. The key is to sort out the issues that are so sensitive, others really want you to tell them what they want to hear. In these situations, unless the person demands you tell them what you really think, don’t.
But most of the time, whenever you can, put it right out there and say what you mean.