Photo by Deborah Marcus, February 22, 2012, North Carolina
I just purchased a book through Amazon , Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. I’ve always enjoyed books like these and have seen a number of quotes from this book over the years.
One American proverb from this book that many people have heard has to do with honey.
Benjamin Franklin, “Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar” (Franklin, 1980).
When I first heard this quote I remember thinking, “Well who in the heck wants to attract FLIES”? Having grown up on a farm in SE Colorado, I can tell you that flies were a problem. The animals hated them, farmers hated them, and children relegated to policing the house with fly swatter and tissue in hand hated them!
However, like many quotes, you have to look past the surface to get at the true meaning. Gee, had I known vinegar would have kept them away I may have started sprinkling it around and dabbing it behind my ears.
Ok. Maybe not.
We don’t need to go raid our friend’s hives for honey, either. This quote has to do with being tactful – on purpose.
You know what I’ve discovered? To be tactful, I DO have to be purposeful about it. It is super simple to be tactless. Especially when angry! I’ve learned that if I’m to be tactful, thereby attracting more attention with my “honey”, I have to set out with very real purpose ahead of time. It seems we were created to have a lot of excess vinegar on hand.
I think a lot of folks do not realize that the quote begins with, “Tart words make no friends”. Last week I received a lot of private responses about the post “ A Special Kind of Stupid “. Some things people with disabilities shared with me made me very upset. You just would not believe some of the things that “normal” people say to folks with invisible illnesses or disabilities. Then again, if you follow “Hearing Elmo”, perhaps you would believe it as you likely have some connection to the disability or chronic illness communities.
Though it may be difficult, we really have to remember to put a cap on our – erm – vinegar when responding to some of the stupid things we hear in our day-to-day lives.
No, She Is Really Unhappy
Take an example from last week in “A Day in the Life with a Service Dog”. At Walmart, as per my usual mid-week major errand, Chloe and I ended up attracting some attention. As I outlined in an article for Gale Hannan at “ Hearing Health Mattters “, if you don’t like attention then do not mitigate your disability with an assistance dog. You are going to attract attention. It becomes easy to ignore and if you are deaf like I am, you don’t even hear all the exclamations of surprise. However, sometimes I’m stopped. Dog-lovers like Walmart… or so it would seem. Most of the time I am very glad to stop and answer questions. I carry information about hearing dogs and balance-assist dogs with me for opportunities just like these. I’ve discovered, however, that if I stand around TOO LONG, folks begin to unplug their brains before asking questions. There is this “fine line” of how much time is “long enough”, prompting me to move on with my shopping. I evidently have not discovered that important timeframe yet. As I answered this lady’s reasonable questions, a lull occured in our conversation. That should have waved the red flags for me. Heck I’d take explosions in my underclothes if I could learn to pick up these cues.
I stuck around too long.
“So does your beautiful service dog ever get to just be a dog? Does she ever get to play?”
Vinegar began pooling under my tongue. Chalk it up to living with a house full of very sarcastic people. I wanted to say, “You know? As a service dog she needs to earn her keep. The vest comes off at night and she is allowed to finally rest. She’s a working dog – not a playing dog. It wouldn’t do me any good for her to go around thinking she could ever play, right?” (said with saccharin sweetness).
Tactful Responses Ultimately Educate
Instead I swallowed the vinegar (grimace) and plastered on my best “WHAT A TERRIFIC QUESTION” face and replied, “Well she is a dog! She is a beloved member of our family. She gets play breaks at work and doesn’t actually wear her vest at home. She still does alerts and helps while at home, but she is off duty more than she is “on”. A healthy service dog is allowed to just be a dog. That is why she loves working for me. I set very realistic boundaries and expectations”.
Being tactful and pleasant is important if I’m to hope that I play even some small part in helping to educate others about hearing loss, balance disorders, and service dogs. If I’m angry and belligerent, I’m not going to “win friends nor influence people”.
And neither will you.
Is It Ever OK to “Let ‘er Rip”?
I have lived with hearing loss and balance issues more than half of my life now. That means I have some experience. That does not mean that I do everything right. Folks ask me from time to time when it is OK to put others in their place.
We can’t exactly take out a megaphone and announce to everyone within earshot, “This person just said something STUPID”.
To demean others is never the right way to go. For one thing, it only makes US look bad. You certainly won’t promote education, compassion, or understanding in others if you deliberately embarrass or fuss at them. Having said that, I do believe that there are times that responding with sweetness and “honey” may not be the right answer. After all, it may be that you no longer WANT to attract that particular person who simply cannot and WILL not treat you like a normal human being. I believe the right time to load your water pistol with vinegar occurs when:
1. You’ve responded the right way over, and OVER again.
Maybe it is a family member that thinks their comments are funny. Maybe it is a co-worker whose remarks border on the unkind. At some point you may discover that the only way to educate someone is to be a little more FRANK – pardon the pun Benjamin Franklin!
Tired of the eye rolls and deliberate condescending response at a dinner table of “I’ll tell you later” after asking for a second repeat of what someone said? Perhaps it is time you gently laid your hand on their arm and said in a normal tone (for they likely do NOT have a hearing loss), “You know? It hurts my feelings when you say that and sigh and roll your eyes. I only want to hear what you said. You never actually remember to tell me later what it was. Don’t blow me off. What was funny? I want to participate in your life. I care about these moments and we will never re-live them or have them as “do overs”. I want to know what you said because I love you”. Others at the table may have grown quiet at this calm announcement. But that can work in your favor too. Sometimes educating others occurs by observing someone else getting educated. You may have let a little vinegar taint what you said. A little “sting” may be necessary to get through to calloused hearts.
2. You respond in defense of others.
Sometimes you may need to put up the honey aside and gear up with vinegar in order to stick up for someone else. I’m much quicker to speak up to a bully when the person being picked on is NOT ME. This has to be done carefully, however, as you do not want to take away an opportunity for someone else to stand up for themselves. When you live with disability, chronic illness, or invisible differences, you need to learn to be as independent as you can. It is healthy. You may need assistance in technology, puppy power, or by swallowing your pride and learning to ask for help.
However, there are times I believe, that we should step up and even figuratively lock arms with another who is being misunderstood to let them know they are not alone, and let a bully know they are being irrational – or STUPID.
We Won’t Always Do it Right
I can be a sour puss. Vinegar is more likely to run through my veins than honey. I’m allergic to bee stings.
Sometimes I blow it. I respond as if I don’t care if someone better understands disability and hearing loss. As a person of faith, I know this dishonors not only me, but also God. I have learned to say “I’m sorry” – and really mean it. Acknowledging that you aren’t feeling well today and mis-spoke or are feeling belligerent and should have kept your mouth shut shows maturity. Did you blow it? Well make it right. You know what to do.
Franklin, B. (2007). “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. New York : New York, p. 44.