There's been something weighing on my mind that's been sitting there for a while. It has to do with people spouting well-meaning platitudes that unfortunately come across as being condescending, hurtful, ignorant or even just cruel.
Image: Davide Restivo via Flickr
A few weeks ago, a friend posted something on Facebook along the lines of "all that really matters is that the people you love are happy and healthy. Everything else is just sprinkles on the sundae."
Now, aside from the fact that this little saying is quite revoltingly saccharine (not sure how anyone could honestly say that with sincerity), what is it really saying about people?
At first glance, this cutesy little clump of words tells us what to truly value in life. It could be interpreted as saying that all our superficial worries are meaningless, because health and happiness are what is truly important. Now, on that point, I can agree. Society is wrapped up in meaningless little squabbles and places value in all the wrong things. But look again at how this is worded. It is essentially saying that happiness and health are the most important things in life. Well, are they?
While I think most people would agree that striving to live a healthy life is important, the fact is that not everyone can achieve the gold standard of "health" that this little saying seems to be talking about. It seems to ostracize those with chronic or incurable illnesses. What do they get? No sprinkles on the sundae and maybe not even a sundae to begin with?
If this friend had simply posted about how happy she is that her family is happy and healthy, I would agree. I am happy for everyone who manages to attain this, whether through hard work or dumb luck. But the wording of the platitude makes it about other people. And you know what, it's actually not okay to make blanket statements that refer to other people. About anything. Even if you are a dead celebrity (because it's not my friend's original quote).
I get that this was well-meaning, but at the same time, it really stung when I read it. I couldn't help but feel bitter about it. You have your health? Well, aren't you just fabulous?
It's almost as bad as the throwaway line that gets spouted by millions of smug, unthinking pregnant women. "I don't mind if it's a boy or a girl, as long as it's healthy."
Sorry, what? As long as it's healthy? And what if it's not? You'll send it right back to the baby store? I heard the stork doesn't have a good return policy.
Obviously everyone wants their baby to be healthy. You don't have to say it, we already know. We also like to assume that people love their children whether they are born practically perfect in every way or with some additional challenges to face. This little saying, though, makes me wonder. Think about it: we'll love a boy or a girl, as long as it's healthy. What's the unspoken part that comes after that? And if it's not, well...
Luckily, there's a very simple solution. Think about the words before you post them online. If you can't think of anything to say aside from parroting a tired, patronizing line, then maybe it's best to not say anything at all.
If you're pregnant, try this one instead: "I don't mind having a boy or a girl. I hope our baby is happy."
Or this: "I hope our baby is healthy, but if not, we'll still consider ourselves lucky to have them."
We have to take care of each other in life. It's no use spouting little sayings about the important things in life if they are not said with kindness and empathy. After all, no one knows what the future holds.
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