You know the old saying, “My mother taught me if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” that most of us like to throw out whenever we’re placed in the difficult position of choosing between brutal honesty and just keeping our thoughts to ourselves?
Yeah. I do, too.
There’s just one problem with that statement, though. My mother never taught me that. Nor did my father, or any of my grandparents, for that matter.
In fact, when I was in boot camp, our company commanders gave me the most sage advice on the issue I’ve ever received. They said, “I can show you better than I can tell you.”
In other words, as the venerable Joe Friday would say it, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Or, as the Bible (John 8:32) puts it, “... the truth will set you free.”
So, when I’m presented with an opportunity to provide brutal honesty or keep my mouth shut, I generally just provide facts and let the listener figure out the truth of it on his or her own. Let the facts speak for themselves without conjecture or bias, and the truth will become obvious — although sometimes painfully so.
And when I do express my opinion, I always have the facts that back up what I’m saying. I don’t pontificate. I state facts and let those facts do most of the talking for me.
But there’s a limit to how much of that can be effective. For instance, after the General Election, someone asked me for my opinion on why the Republicans failed so miserably at the polls at the local, state and national levels.
I gave it to them straight, mostly by providing key facts. Mind you, these were facts that were already there, such as the fact a majority of voters voted for Barack Obama, even though a majority of Americans polled think he hasn’t done a very good job as President.
That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. And when you look at that fact plainly, you should be able to see the truth that comes from it. But truth alone. But not everyone is receptive to the truth — even when it’s as plain as the nose on their face.
So, there is a level of care you have to take when expressing your opinions. I chose to provide the facts to the person who asked for my assessment because I knew he could accept what I was saying and it wouldn’t close him off from further discussion.
That doesn’t work in every case.
For example, in the current debate about gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn., what does it add to the great cacophony of “talking heads” blathering away on both sides of the debate for me to say I am a member of Oath Keepers?
To those who know and understand what the organization stands for, that might mean something. For those who don’t, it would only serve for you to label me in your mind — and to discount anything I have to say on the matter.
The debate isn’t advanced, and only greater acrimony is created. That should never be the point of a reasonable discussion, which unfortunately hasn’t been happening for quite some time in our country.
Likewise, tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. And I find myself again in a position where stating my facts and opinions will do nothing to advance my cause.
Those of you who read my column regularly already know my opinion and the facts that back it up. To state them again only creates further division between those who agree and those who don’t.
That’s never been the point of my opinion pieces. When I state facts, I do so with the intention of advancing a reasonable discussion, not to cram my opinion into someone else’s head.
It would be nice if other folks understood that.
Several times in the past few months since I’ve been here, I’ve written about and talked about “tone.” And, sometimes, I feel like I’m talking to an empty wall. But, I’m going to talk about it one more time with just this simple advice:
Before you say it, ask yourself one simple question, “How does saying this advance my cause?” And when you answer it, be honest with yourself.
In the last few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that other members of our newsroom team are now contributing to our opinion pages. I hope you all like the variety of commentaries they have been providing as much as I have.
But, one side effect of having so many wonderful staff-produced columns running in the Daily News, as well as many of the other new features we’ve added, is that we don’t have the space for two “Common Sense” columns each week anymore.
It is my hope I can make up for the quantity with quality going forward.