Everyday, everyone is faced with decisions that must be made in the light of their personal ethical obligations. Sometimes these choices are complex with many pros and cons to take into consideration and at other-times they are undemanding enough to consider even momentarily. These situations may involve our perceived duties as friends or parents. They may be as controversial as whether or not to have an abortion or whether we should cheat on an exam or spouse. As I begin to write this, I cannot give a generalized maxim that can be implemented when faced with these dilemmas (however challenging or un-challenging they may be). I have not written any brilliant aphorisms that answer these situations. What I will do is try to consider and point out something that, quite lamentably, remains unconsidered in people’s day-to-day lives. The problem I wish do deal with is the importance of being earnest and, more specifically, the importance of sharing earnest positivity.
Generally, when caught in the heat of the moment, we are quick to say something we will undoubtedly regret later – “I wish we had never met,” “I hate you,” or “I can’t believe you’re MY child.” Too often, the damage we have dealt with these thoughtless, reckless words are not easily remedied. A lifetime of friendship or partnership can be brought to a quick collapse with a declarative statement spoken without any forethought — however true for the moment that statement might be. A cautionary gem found in the Epistle of James advises us to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Perhaps this is the maxim we could live by, by which many of the problems brought about by a loose tongue and quick temper would be solved. Unfortunately, these are difficult instructions to abide by. When negativity in the form of anger runs rampant onto the scene we are often dragged along on the calamitous ride.
Seemingly slaves to our feelings, it appears that it is much easier to be obedient to the devil on our shoulder than the angel on our other. What a better world it would be if our nice and constructive thoughts were the first to reach our tongue rather than the malicious and destructive ones. There is a certain importance in being earnest positively, one with clear consequential outcomes. If this is so, why is it the case that we give voice to negativity more often than positivity? Why is it that the majority of us are ready to criticize mistakes than praise accomplishments — however minor?
Imagine what relationships could have been salvaged if before that tipping point of frustration there had already been a strong foundation of open and earnest compassion, understanding, or kindness. It seems clear that we should never assume that someone knows we care, we should tell them. We should never assume that someone knows we love them, we should tell them. One maxim I have picked up on making assumptions is that when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.
According to some professors I have spoken to as well as some online websites, there seems to be an understanding that performing 5 acts of appreciation and acknowledgment to every 1 negative interaction can fix a relationship or keep it healthy. You’d think that people who are in love with each other would find such advice superfluously and unnecessarily spoken — “Of course we should focus our energies to engaging in more positive over negative interactions,” they might say. Why, then, is it so hard? We want to be happy and we want the people we love to be happy — so why does creating unhappiness come easier?
Another thought to consider, according to suicide.org, in the United States in 2001 “Suicide [was] the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24 year olds.” I wonder how many of these suicides, committed at the start of these people’s lives, could have been prevented if some of the kinder words we keep to ourselves had not gone unexpressed? How many lives could have been spared if we had not assumed that they knew we cared already? How much potential was lost as a result of our unspoken positivity or our outspoken negativity?
I have been told, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything” — but this seems to be only one side of the coin (and the other side of the coin remains without a popular and quotable maxim). Regardless, the aforementioned aphorism is one I disagree with. Above being nice, it is important to be truthful. For statements of fact, opinion, or belief to hold any weight they must be true and spoken in absolute earnest. Perhaps what you have to say is not very nice, but it could be a vital truth — and it is better to be rude than to be dishonest. Even in less dire situations, such as someone asking their partner, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” it is important that the partner responds earnestly and honestly — if not, then any further compliments may end up being disregarded as mere flattery. It is honesty in difficult scenarios that makes all other words meaningful.
Even storybook villains come to the conclusion that, “Only enemies speak the truth; friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of duty.” — but perhaps we can change that.
It is in this mode of thought that it seems important to be earnest not just in uncomfortable and unpleasant conversations but also when we can encourage and inspire. If I could propose a new maxim, I would recommend people to: be earnest and honest in all dealings, good and bad — and to be unreserved with the good. Words unabiding by this maxim seem to be empty flatteries and wasted breath.