People say stupid things. Sometimes this happens because they don’t know what to say, but they feel the urge to say something, so they say the wrong thing on the assumption that saying anything is better than saying nothing at all. This is usually a bad decision. At funerals, for example, when well-intentioned people are flummoxed in their efforts to come up with the “right” words to say to the bereaved, what comes out is frequently awkward, callous, and, upon occasion, downright dreadful.
I’ve overheard comments about how “good” the deceased looks in his coffin. I bet you have, too. Mercy! Does anyone believe this is really something a teary widow wants to hear? How in the world is this helpful? How should she respond? “Well, yes, Aunt So-and-So, considering he’s dead as a dodo, I think he looks pretty good.” Let me clear this up: If you can’t think of something comforting to say at a funeral, the words “I’m sorry,” will suffice. They’re hard to beat.
We’ve all been guilty of allowing a glib comment to trip off our tongues, words that we immediately wish we could ram back down our throats to be swallowed whole and never heard from again the minute we hear them echo around the room. Unfortunately, the words we hear in our head often sound different when they ricochet like machine gun fire across a crowded funeral home parlor. Once those words are out there, it’s too late to do anything except absorb the resulting flak the best you can.
In a fit of temper or when our spouses, children, or jobs try our very souls—that’s when we are in the most danger of allowing our mouths to run amuck without a thoughtful preview by our brains. Most verbal gaffs are simply the result of people forgetting to think before they speak. In diplomatic circles, such mistakes are called whoopsies. Rather onomatopoetic; don’t you think? I love the jargon.
Those of us who overhear such statements wince in sympathy and thank our lucky stars that we didn’t say something worse ourselves. Heaven help you if you’re a public figure with foot-in-mouth disease. You’ll be raked over the coals in the media until somebody more famous makes an even bigger whoopsie.
Sadly, we all know a few people who purposefully toss verbal hand grenades into the conversation, either because they really are clueless or because they love to stir the pot among colleagues, friends, and volatile family members—just to watch the ensuing mayhem. I’m sorry to say that the world has some mighty mean folks in it. I bet you already knew that.
When you hear one of those grenades clatter around your feet, you can scramble around on your hands and knees in an attempt to slide the pin back in, but it’s probably a hopeless endeavor. Go ahead and roll your eyes. Make gagging noises. Look indignant. Demand a retraction.
Then . . . let it go.
An apology is usually the only redress available, and if someone is too ornery to cough one up, remember these words: you can’t fix stupid. That’s genetic. Ignorance can be overcome, but stupid is forever. Stupid people say stupid things. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Even though you are temped to smack those people upside the head with the closest heavy object, that’s not the best way to handle it. It might go a long way toward making you feel better, but it won’t do one thing to change the mind of the stupid person being assaulted.
Even if they really have it coming, it’s best not to resort to violence. I know what you’re thinking: “There are some people who need to be taken out to the woodshed, SWAG Lady.” Well, yes. Maybe. Depends. That doesn’t mean it’s your job to smite them.
It’s hard to be gracious, especially when someone makes a spectacularly stupid proclamation like: “I think the moon landing was a hoax;” “The Holocaust never happened; “911 was an American conspiracy;” or “Anybody who votes for _______ is an idiot.”
I don’t know where people come up with these ideas. I always want to ask: Do you read at all? Here’s my advice: Stand up for what you believe in. Avoid the crackpots whenever possible—even if they’re family. Educate the ignorant when you can, but be nice to stupid folks. They can’t help themselves, and it shows you have nice manners.