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The Things We Say
By Oliver Sutari

March 14, 2012

The new generation, regardless of gender, can be very direct, if this incident is anything to go by. A young man declares to his lover, “Darling, I don’t like any kind of tension. So once we get married, you will just have to forget about your family.” His lady love plays along and tells him, “Well, in case you have missed it, I don’t like tension either. So, here’s the plan. I will tell my family members to get lost, and you tell your family to do the same. That way we will not have anyone to worry about.” If that did not flummox him, I don’t know what would.
Here is a rhetorical question that is quite common and difficult to understand: “I know this will offend you, but can I tell you something?”

Here is another one we hear often. Someone says something very nasty and then adds, “Don’t feel bad!” That may sound considerate, but isn’t it up to the individual to react in a manner he feels fit? What would really be nice is not saying anything hurtful in the first place. There are some who also justify hurting another person by boasting about their honesty. “You see, I can’t help it; it is just that I am a very honest person.” Saying that one “cannot” help it is not entirely honest. We all can help it if we really want to.
I fondly remember a story from the Marathi text book of, I think, my eighth grade. The story is of a family living in a remote village in Maharashtra. In those days, the wife would eat after her husband and children had eaten first. Every time the lady of this particular household would ask her husband if he enjoyed the meal, he would unfailingly answer, “rajmanya” - which means a king would give his nod. Their seven-year-old son, learning from the father, would also say the same thing. One day, the lady altogether forgot to add salt to the food. The response from her husband and son was no different that afternoon - it was still an unswerving ‘rajmanya’. Later the woman realizes that she had missed out on the all-important ingredient. Tears well up in her eyes as respect for her husband deepens further. For him, he explains without any fuss, her feelings are always more important. As for the son, it appeared that he was learning well from the father.
In stark contrast, a lady who had come to me for counselling told me how her husband would say, “Well, darling, the food is nice, but you should be careful with the chillies the next time?” He would compulsively point out a problem with one ingredient or another. If you want to know how to give a compliment and negate it, then this is how it is done – all in one breath. Some may not realize what they are doing. On the other hand, quite a few men are concerned that “if I praise my wife she will some day sit on my head.” For others, perhaps their honesty has gone to their head. Who knows!
During a domestic disturbance, one spouse tells the other, “You see, there is nothing wrong with you; it is just that something is wrong with your entire family.” We all know what happens after such a foolish remark.
It is all too common on American television shows to see a pair of lovers living for years together. Add to it, they may even have a child from their live-in relationship. Curious friends ask, “Hey, when are you two going to tie the knot?” And, what is the answer? “We are not ready to make that commitment yet. We still have so much to know about each other.” Well, good luck with that!
There are times when, despite their best intentions, people have problems dealing with intense situations. For example, it is familiar to hear someone tell a grieving person, “I am sorry about your loss; I know how you feel.” The second part may be true, or may not be true at all. If the person is grieving for a lost father and if you have passed through that same situation, then it is understandable. Remember, however, that feelings cannot be entirely the same for two individuals. Worse still, what if the person is mourning over the loss of a child, and you are not even parents? In many situations a warm hug with the words, “I really don’t know what to say; I am at a loss for words,” actually conveys a lot. In addition to that, it reduces the risk of saying something wrong to zero.
Keeping children safe is quite a challenge; and, at times the danger can be in the form of another child. At a nearby swimming pool there is a big sign that says: Danger – No Diving - Depth 4 Feet Only. The thirty-foot pool is usually overcrowded during the children’s hour. There are kids of all ages (and all kinds), ranging between two years old and twelve years old, all vying for prime space in the water. Does the sign prevent a few pampered children from diving or jumping into the pool, inches away from another child’s head? It does not. And what does mom have to say about her untamed kid’s behaviour? “You know how kids are these days!” There you go – blame the world for it. I wonder if the same woman would be so empathetic if another child landed on her son’s head.
Here is something else that one gets to hear quite often: “Can I be honest with you?” Whatever the tone, many a times this means that something hurtful is on the way and the question is not intended to seek permission. If the tone is bad, then it is a warning of a verbal volley straight from the gut. If he is a good friend, it might be best to become a punching bag for that moment – it will help him empty. After all, what are friends for? Atleast you cannot complain that you were not warned.
I heard this monologue that had my stomach in knots. On the day of their 30th anniversary, a woman named Olga tells her husband, “Svensen, I think we have been fighting with each other from the very first day of our marriage. It is very obvious that we simply don’t agree on anything. I really think that this must stop and we should lead normal, happy lives. Don’t you think?” Svensen nods, his face looking more like a withered bark of a tree. Even if he wanted to smile, Svensen’s atrophied facial muscles would not let him! Olga continues, “So, here is the plan. You go live with your mother, and I will call my divorced sister to live with me in this house. And, every month, make sure you send money for my expenses.”

Experts tell us that if there is something negative we have to convey, we must first tell something positive to the intended “victim”. (Like giving a compliment and taking it back!) I have no clue how one can actually make a person feel good, or less bad, by using this ploy. Perhaps in some situations it could work, but I am talking about situations such as this: On a reality show, I watched a man looking utterly bewildered at his wife. A young woman was telling her husband of five years what a wonderful and sweet fellow he is, and that any woman would be lucky to have him. She goes on and on praising him and appreciating his many virtues. No sooner she finishes showering him with the positives, she tells him, “I don’t know, darling, but I just cannot live with you any more.” Then she adds, “You are such a wonderful person, I am sure you will find someone who will love you.”
I am not an expert on canines, but I find the golden retriever a particularly interesting breed. My dog - a golden retriever - displays a range of emotions, including anger, confusion, bewilderment, sadness and even shame. And all these expressions are discernible. The one I enjoy the most is the bewildered look on his face. I find it so comical that I invariably end up with stomach cramps from laughter.
One afternoon, I was taking a nap and my dog settled down at my feet for a few winks. Of course, this happens only when my wife is away! Anyway, a little while later I heard a ‘thud’, only to find this fellow on the floor. He had landed on his back. He gave me a look that would make anyone feel guilty – a look which said that I had betrayed him. He remained there not wanting to move and, as I tried assuring him that I was not responsible, his look changed to bewilderment – a look that resembled that of the man on the reality show, whose wife told him that she could not live with him. It was as if he were telling me, “How could you do this to someone you love?” This time I was not laughing because I did not want to add to his hurt feelings. With a lot of soft talk I convinced him to jump back on to the bed.
My dog, like all dogs, is very understanding and we can get away with just about anything with him. I, on the other hand, can never understand why anyone would tell you that you are the nicest person on earth, and in the same breath tell you that it is difficult to live with you.
I rest my case.


Oliver Sutari - Archives:


Comments on this article
Ashok Kumar B, Doha, QatarMonday, March 19, 2012
Excellent and thought provoking article......Thanks Oliver. Keep writing.
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Very Good Article
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Sunil, Friday, March 16, 2012
Good Article , worth the read without digging into the facts .
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A. S. Mathew, U.S.A.Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Great article. The words are
powerful tools, either to create
happiness of misery in other people. Even speaking out truth
in the wrong time and in an
inappropriate place can be turned
very fatal. In this tense society,
every word must be used with ultra
caution and proper control.
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geoffrey, hat hillWednesday, March 14, 2012
and that makes masculine gender rather hypocritical than genuinely 'very direct'.
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Oliver Sutari, ManipalWednesday, March 14, 2012
For all our advancement and freedom, the male still thinks there are certain things that belong to his domain. Take smoking. Men still go into gossip mode when they see a woman smoking and, yet, this is hardly a new phenomenon.
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geoffrey, hat hillWednesday, March 14, 2012
If BOTH genders of the new generation are ‘very direct’, why would the male be flummoxed when he gets the dose of his own medicine? . All in all, in many a occasion the most appropriate thing is to call a spade a spade.
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Prasad, Mangalore/W.AfricaWednesday, March 14, 2012
Hi Mr.Oliver, I love to read your articles every time on daiji. I really liked it. Every time you write on social issues with guidance or suggestions to the society. God bless you.
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Anil Pinto, Mumbai/Abu DhabiWednesday, March 14, 2012
A good article. Its true that most of us do not give a serious thought to what we speak in certain situations. More often, its a chore to get over with and we babble the first words which come to our minds. Our words are shaped by our thoughts and its important for a human being to be intrinsically good natured if our words have to be meaningful. A large part of the "Good Nature" that I am talking about is "Compassion" and "Apathy" - do undo others what who would want them to do undo you. This would probably make us subconsiously more considerate when we talk. Self righteousness is another evil which is a detterent to apathy.   Reminds us of the story which Jesus narrated of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
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