Be Nice

I read an article yesterday about the dumb, insensitive things people say to large families .

The article gave all kinds of clever and sharp responses to the invasive and inappropriate questions people ask. I got a real kick out of it especially since I grew up in a large family myself and remember some of the ignorant comments people made to my parents about having soooo many kids.

Even though I enjoyed the article, it also got me thinking about the way I respond to people when they ask me questions or make comments that I think are dumb or intrusive. At this point in my life, most of the questions and comments I find irritating pertain to a) not having children and b) what I do all day (since I don’t have children and only work part-time outside of the home).

As far as I’m concerned, it’s nobody’s business why we don’t have children and Darren and I joke about the inappropriate and sarcastic things we could say to people to let them know it’s none of their business. Usually we’re perfectly polite and tell people we’re just not ready to have kids–this generally leads to a torrent of unwanted admonishment and advice:

  • “You’ll never have enough money to start a family so you’ve just got to go for it!” (I never said I don’t have enough money or am waiting for enough money).
  • “Kids are such a joy and add so much to your life–you won’t regret it!” (I never said children are kill-joys or that I’m not looking forward to all they will add to life).
  • “You’re running out of time.” (I’m 26, I mean really?).
  • Oh, and my personal favorite said repeatedly by my father–“I’ll be dead before you have children and then I’ll never get to enjoy my grandkids.” (Dad, you are a young thing–let’s all just breathe shall we?).

I could go on and on but what I’m starting to realize and think about is this: All the annoying things people say and all the ignorant questions they ask are very likely said with the best of intentions. For the most part, I don’t think anyone who has said these kinds of things to me is trying to be mean, irritating, or intrusive. Most likely they’re just trying to encourage me and let me know that they’re interested in my life and are excited about the day when I start a family (what’s more exciting than a brand new baby after all?). And considering that most people aren’t actually trying to hurt me, is it really fair that my response to them be sharp, sarcastic, or unkind? After all, I’ve asked some pretty dumb questions myself.

There are so many opportunities in life to ask ignorant questions. For example:

  • When kids are graduating from high school or college everyone (including me) wants to know what they’re doing next. It’s a pretty harmless question but I remember being the kid graduating and getting asked that question 15,0000000 times and not having an answer and it really drags on you until you’re ready to verbally assault the next person who wants to know “what next?”
  • When you’re single, everyone (including me) wants to know if there’s anyone special in your life or if you would like to meet their second cousin’s uncle Fred who’s a really nice guy. When you’re single, the last thing you want to talk about with near strangers is why you’re single and how long you plan on being that way as if there is something wrong with you or something wrong with being single.
  • When you get married, as I already said, everyone (including me) wants to know when a baby will be coming.
  • When you are pregnant everyone will point out to you that you are pregnant and man you are soooooo big!
  • Once you have baby number one, everyone wants to know when you’re having baby number two.
  • When you have baby number two everyone wants to know if you know what causes all these babies and when you’re going to stop.
  • Regardless of who you are or where you are in life, at some point everyone (including me) is just going to want to know what’s wrong with you and why would you do whatever it is you are doing.

But here’s the thing about all these stupid, annoying questions–they are usually innocent. Yes they can be ignorant and insensitive but they really aren’t meant to harass or hurt you; they are meant to show interest and curiosity. They are meant, in their own odd way, to show love. I can’t even imagine how many dumb hurtful things I’ve said to people over the years but I can be sure that I almost never meant to hurt or to intrude. So the next time someone says something to you that is reeeeeaaaaally really none of their business, just try to remember that you have (or will) ask the same dumb questions at some point and the people asking the questions are just trying to have a conversation not an inquisition (well, most people that is).

Let’s be nice to each other shall we? :]

14 thoughts on “Be Nice

  1. A few weeks ago, I came down with this very bad virus that left me semi-bedridden and unable to talk very much for a few days. It was bad, but what was worse was hearing all the unedifying things people say to each other on the street, in the doctor’s clinic, on the bus… more accurately I thought about how many such things I must say when I am not too ill to utter them!

    Too true that often people say things just for the sake of saying them, and we end up discouraging/annoying/hurting people in the process.

    Lately I have been thinking about the need to “speak the truth in love”…!

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  2. Very well said! I often have those same feelings of, wanting to punch someone when they ask those annoying questions. But, I will bear this piece in mind the next time someone asks me something

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  3. hi there. 🙂 stumbled across your blog through freshly pressed and decided to poke around for a bit. i agree with what you said and i also think that apart from caring and showing love, these types of questions are the seemingly polite ones to ask because as you mentioned, it expresses interest. just as with the “what’s your major? what are you going to do with it?” questions, sometimes it’s the only thing to ask if not the conversation might just end in awkward silence. so more often than not, it’s simply making conversation.

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  4. the examples you gave are indeed harmless, polite small talk and in addition to being nice and not taking this stuff so personal, when we are the one asking these questions we also need to appreciate the uniqueness of human beings and that not everyone follows the same ‘guidelines for life’ as set out by modern society, so you might not get the answer you were expecting. Great piece!

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  5. I love how this captures America’s quest for “success” (either life, familial, career, etc) namely, once your at one stage your automatically pushed into the next and then according to “those guys” you’re on track to a “happy life.” {insert beautiful John Williams music here} Kari at times it is hard to be charitable to them because at times their questions invoke pain. (i.e. couple seeking to have children but are unable “So when are you having children?)Yet, extending grace to them would be proper but difficult when the pain is so fresh. Thank you Kari for the post!

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    • Troy, you make a good point about the American dream. I see people (and catch myself) always looking for what’s next and never content with what is right in front of them. We miss so much always looking for the next best thing.
      I agree too that people’s words can be so hurtful and it’s so hard to respond lovingly when someone hits on an area of heartache or sensitivity. I have people close to me who can’t have children or have lost children and people’s ignorant questions cause them so much needless hurt.
      But I’ve also started to realize that just because someone says something hurtful to me does not mean they meant to hurt me (they probably have no idea they’re touching on something sensitive) and even though people should be more careful and considerate about what they say, that doesn’t give me the right to respond in sharp sarcasm and unkindness. I must learn to be patient and kind even when people hurt me; I certainly want others to be patient and kind with me when I unwittingly say something ignorant or hurtful to them.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  6. Dadi says he expects a birthday card in the next three weeks or so that tells him how young he is! AND just so you remember, their was a certain daughter who once called her Dadi from college to ask him, “Do you know how OLD you are?!” Loved the blog Kari, you are right we all do ask such ignorant questions at times. I agree- Let’s just be nice! Love you!

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  7. Love it Kari, I got some good laughs. Most of them aimed at me. When I told Clem that Rachel was pg, he said you better tell Bobby what causes that. So your comment on that really made me chuckle.

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