June 24, 2008

#01-126: How to Talk Nice

black and white photo of two children in old-fashioned coats drinking with two straws from a glass bottle
A little kindness goes a long way.

Note: Poking fun at people is always... well, fun. But it may be more fun for us than it is for them. Learn more about talking nice.

Get Ready: Do you ever tease or joke with your friends? Have you ever made a mistake and hurt someone's feelings?

While we are talking about good manners in communication (see Lesson #01-125)...

When I think about my father, I think of a man of loving actions, a kind heart... and an extremely sharp tongue.

  • My dad is sitting quietly in the living room.
  • "Hi, Dad. Whatcha doin'?"
    "Riding a bicycle."
  • My dad is starting out the front door.
  • "Dad, where are you going?"
    "Crazy. You want to come along?"
  • I'm looking for my mom.
  • "Dad, where's Mom?"
    "She broke her leg and we shot her."

Sarcasm and insults all the time!

And we knew he loved us, because these seemingly-harsh words were spoken jokingly in the context of a lifetime of love and care.

The tradition continues. One of the things my friends and I like to do is get together and make fun of each other. These "rag sessions" can go on for hours. For the most part it's a lot of fun. But sometimes, even among the best of friends, someone's feelings can get hurt.

This problem can be even worse among strangers. To tease, joke with, make fun of, or scold a stranger or someone you have just met can be very dangerous indeed. Criticism, whether serious or for fun, should come out of a relationship. It should not come "out of the blue."

For example, if I am dining with a good friend and I'm holding my chopsticks wrong, the friend may choose to correct me. I could easily accept this. If the person is just a recently-met business acquaintance, such correction might make me feel uncomfortable. And if someone who was just walking by stopped to correct me, I'd probably get downright angry!

The same would be true of jokes about a new haircut, say, or the way I sing.

Me: "Hey, James, what did you do with the money?"
Friend: "What money?"
Me: "The money your mother gave you for singing lessons!"

(This joke implies that I never learned how to sing properly.)

If a friend did this, I'd shoot back another joke. If a new acquaintance or a stranger did it, I'd object!

Another example: I'm what we call a "big guy"--seriously overweight. It frequently happens that Chinese people whom I've just met will look at me and say, "You should lose some weight." This is not considered a polite thing to say to someone you don't know well. I want to answer, "You should mind your own business," but usually I just make a joke out of it ("Really? Why? I had no idea!")

So remember, talk nice. Barbed language may have its place in exchanges between friends (and family), but it's just not appropriate in public discourse.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindness

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. acquaintance
  2. appropriate
  3. barbed
  4. context
  5. frequently
  6. implies
  7. rag sessions
  8. sarcasm
  9. scold
  10. sharp

  1. harsh; cutting
  2. a kind of hurtful "humor," like telling an ugly person, "Oh, you're SO good-looking!"
  3. suitable; fit for the situation
  4. a person you know, but not really well
  5. meant to be hurtful
  6. the situation in which something happens
  7. conversations where people insult each other for fun
  8. often
  9. find fault; reprimand
  10. gives an impression without saying something directly

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 24, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. c; 3. e; 4. f; 5. h; 6. j; 7. g; 8. b; 9. i; 10. a