The Silent Treatment

I, probably like many of you, grew up in a home where my mother regularly said, ” if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.” And like many others, I have found myself continuing on in this mommy tradition of convincing kids not to ever say anything that could some how hurt someone else’s feelings.

This is indeed a good idea for children, who in case you don’t have any, have the most amazing ability to say the most perfectly wrong thing at the most uncanny time. Like the time my brother, then about three years old, stood up on a church pew during the priest’s homily and happily told Father he was talking way too much. 

But as usual, I digress. I’m beginning to think this practice of being silent on hard topics is not so sound as we grow older. Most of us seem to have this idea that never talking about those elephants in the corner keeps everyone happy. And keeps everyone happy with us for not delving into the uncomfortable. 

I’m not sure we do this for such altruistic reasons. I’m pretty sure most of us don’t ever want to be the bad guy, and were just saving ourselves from conflict. I’m guessing the person or event or issue at hand never really comes into our minds at all. If it did, we’d know that there are difficult things that need to be aired – to provide closure, to save hard feelings, to encourage someone to let go, or even to help someone improve their own lives. It can be our calling to be eyes for those who do not see.

A personal example: I once had a friend who was an integral part of my life. I shared long days, sometimes every thought, with this person. Then one day, it simply ended. My friend stopped talking to me, no explaination given. He treated me as if I were a stranger. Mutual friends stopped talking to me. I was snubbed, pushed aside, thrown away by people I spent everyday with. It was troubling. That was over 20 years ago. I still have no idea what occurred, what offense I was charged with.

A few years ago, the disappointment so got to me that I asked everyone I thought would know flat out what had happened to this relationship. I even tried to reach out to my one-time friend via Facebook, etc, to no avail. But there is someone who does know. Someone else I was quite close with, who was also close with the lost friend I so adored. This person refuses to this day to tell where I went wrong.

For 20 years, I have had no closure. No way to put this relationship behind me. And it has had serious consequences on my state of mind. It has caused me to be overly careful in making new friends. I expect to be hurt this way again. It’s caused me to doubt and lose other friends. My husband has gone so far as to say I hate people. That would likely surprise anyone who has truly known me for the greater number of years I’ve been alive.

In my experience, short term hurt is almost always preferable in the adult world to unknowns and the carousel of regret we ride when we cannot understand our own faults. I know I am also guilty of playing the “it’s not my place” to share game, consciously leaving someone in great doubt, twisting in the wind. We likely all are, as we don’t realize how important some things are in the lives of others.

Why do we fear leveling with people we love? Be the issue that they have bad breath or that their child is involved in questionable behavior or that they’re drinking too much, why do we have such opinions of our “friends” that we feel they are unable to appreciate our concern for their happiness? Or better yet, why would we doubt the loyalty of a friend who chooses to bring the hard truth to our door? 

No one likes hearing bad things or hard truths about themselves. Yet we must, or continue making the same mistakes. There are times when true friends must make a decision to share things that need resolved. To care enough about someone when times are hard and confusing. To put someone they love back on the tracks after derailment, without worrying about how they themselves will be viewed.

Life is difficult. Good people make mistakes, and often don’t even know they have. Unless the rest of us man-up, face the needs of our peers, and open our mouths in the name of kindness, we risk losing many of the people and moments that make our lives worth living and the bonds between people stronger.


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