My heart hurts sometimes. I will never truly understand why some human beings feel the need to say horrible things about other human beings. I’m sure the right person could find psychological reasons why it happens. But all I can think of is, “can’t we just be nice to each other despite our differences?”

“Be Nice”, my mother would say as she caught me arguing with a friend over a toy. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, she’d calmly exclaim as she overheard me saying negative things about others. And of course my Mom could always be heard saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I was sitting here today, thinking about being nice, what I say, and how I treat others and I’ve been reflecting on those things Mom told me. When she said ‘be nice’ I’m not always sure she meant, BE nice. Usually it was a reprimand whose intent was to stop me from acting up. When she talked about ‘not having anything nice to say’, that comment too was intended to stop me from spouting negative comments about a person. I’m not saying she didn’t say those things out of love but her words were said more as punishment than teaching. Or was it? We have to be very careful not only with the words we say but how we say them. I’m not sure I really heard her when she repeated those words to me over and over. They were usually accompanied by a stern look, a wagging of the finger, and possibly a crossing of the arms. That meant I was in trouble. Did those words have a positive effect on me or a negative one? Well the fact that some 40+ years later I’m still thinking about them certainly lends credence to the fact they had an impact on me. I’m sure when she said ‘be nice’ she was feeling ‘why is he acting like that? I didn’t raise him to be mean. Oh, isn’t that disappointing.’ When she said, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all’ she was probably thinking, ‘now why would he say such a thing? Why is he being that way? I didn’t raise him like that.’ At least that’s what I think she might have been feeling and thinking. That’s the way I interpreted it anyway. So in my mind, I disappointed her over and over again. Every time she said those words to me I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I think it was a situation where her words didn’t necessarily match her behavior or emotions at the time. It took many years to understand my Mom just wanted me to be good, kind, humble, giving and thoughtful. And what I learned is no amount of meaningful reprimands from her could teach me that. But she did with her own actions. The one sentence that truly hit home with me was, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ That one made sense to my 10 year old mind and it still does today because it involves our “selves”. We do not want to be treated badly so why would we do that to other people. We know how we feel when someone says bad things to us why would we want to make others feel bad. But my Mom didn’t need to say those words, she lived them every day. Oh, there is another lesson mom repeated over the years, ‘actions speak louder than words’. And her actions taught me everything I needed to know about kindness, humility, charity and thoughtfulness.

So what is the moral of this story? Well, to use another one of my Mom’s sayings, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Those words never really made me feel better when I heard them but I know she meant well. I’m sure she was hurt when I was hurt and sometimes we don’t know how to help the ones we love. The truth is words can’t hurt us. But the intent, the actions, the emotions and the behavior accompanying them can. Sometimes even when we think we’re saying something nice our mannerisms can be perceived as something completely different. It’s a lot to think about when we are having a conversation with someone. Occasionally it’s best not to say anything at all. Especially if what you are planning on saying doesn’t match what’s in your heart. People can tell.

I think all of this is coming up now because I’m playing a troubled a Reverend in my current production whose actions do not match his words. My character doesn’t even believe what he is saying even though he expects others to do so. And I think that’s true for a lot us sometimes. Which is why now I’m making a concerted effort to try to match my behavior with my words. And never, ever do I want to say anything to purposefully hurt someone else. I want to make all my words positive and never negative. I truly think that’s what it means to ‘be nice’, to hear the words ‘if you don’t have don’t anything nice to say don’t say anything at all’, and putting into practice ‘treating others as you want to be treated.  Which is why now I truly understand another thing Mom used to say.  When I’d ask her she was doing or feeling she’d sometimes laugh and say, “I’m a work in progress.”  Me too Mom…me too.