How About Taking Turns?

“Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.”

Out of all the rules I ever heard as a child, I think I hate this one the most.

Why? For starters, it has nothing to do with politeness. It’s simply used to shut a small kid up.

Just like the rule of saying nothing at all if you can’t say anything nice, this one gets lost on the path to adulthood. It’s also impossible. If no one spoke unless someone to spoke to them, no one would be able to speak at all. Somebody has to speak first. According to this, that “someone” must always and only be an adult. I want to know why an adult’s words are, by default, considered more valuable than a child’s.

I live with a family that spends half their time spouting racist and sexist nonsense all day. Nobody speaks to them first. They just blurt it out every now and then. What value is this? By contrast, I once babysat a little girl and she started telling me about her family’s trip to Florida. I didn’t ask her to and I didn’t say a word to her. She just did because she wanted to talk. Now, guess which one I’d rather hear.

If this rule is about not interrupting people, fine. That works, but should apply to adults too. It’s rude to interrupt anyone. But otherwise, someone has to speak first, and it’s fine if that “someone” is a child at times. That’s how we make friends. It’s how relationships are formed. It’s how people connect.

This rule needs to either be thrown in the garbage or replaced with something more sensible.

Also, I’ve heard this same rule was once applied, not only to children, but also to women. Admittedly, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, that alone is enough for me to consider this rule extremely outdated. This is not 1915.

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If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

…don’t say anything at all.

That was something I heard from my mother more times than I can count. Here’s something else I can’t count: the number of people who don’t follow that supposed rule.

Really, where did this saying even come from? I’ve never met a single person who abides by this, including myself. It’s not really possible to avoid things that aren’t so nice. Maybe if everyone in the world was a nice person, but that’s not how the world is.

However, if this expression is referring to unnecessary mean comments, I could agree. Nobody follows it, but it makes more sense. If I found out someone had stolen from me, for example, I’m completely justified in calling them a thief. I wouldn’t be justified in calling them a slur like the n-word.

There’s also the possibility this expression just means not to say unkind things to someone’s face, which is the definition I chose to take with it years ago. Of course, I don’t think talking trash about someone behind their back is much better. Unless they’ve hurt you somehow (in which case, you’re probably venting more than anything), you’re more exposing your own character, not theirs.

Personally, I think this is one of those expressions that needs to die out. Regardless of what meaning it’s taken for, it really may as well be meaningless. Everybody is going to have something unkind to say about someone, and they will say it. It may be within reason. It may not be. But they will.