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To Speak or Not to Speak

When I was about 10 years old, my dad needed a new hired hand on our family farm. He asked me if I would take on the farm chores and agreed to pay me minimum wage. This was not just a matter of my dad holding my hand through farming during my growing up years. I had real responsibility, since my dad owned and ran a veterinary clinic.

My least favorite job on the farm was cleaning out the pig nursery. The smell of liquid hog manure clung fast for 3 or 4 days. During those tough adolescent years, I endured going to school with a terrible hog smell once a month. I always tried to clean the pig nursery on a Thursday or a Friday, because then I had all weekend for the smell to go away.

I had a classmate and friend who grew up on a dairy farm. She had two brothers, and she was the middle of three. Her younger brother was too little to do chores, and her older brother was an athlete and was at practice a lot. So, from about sixth grade all the way till she got into sports, which was probably her freshman year, she did most of the milking chores. She didn’t have an opportunity to get showered a lot of days before she came to school. She was up early milking cows, and if anything ran late she just had to change her clothes and come to school. She sat right in front of me. I remember knowing that she smelled like a dairy barn some days, but I never bothered her about it.

Kindness is often repaid by kindness. My friends never teased me about my hog smell, even on my worst-smelling days, and I think this was partly due to my choice not to tease others who lived on farms. Later, one of my friends told me that they used to make fun of how bad I smelled behind my back, but I must give them credit that they never made fun of me to my face.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to be kind to someone who has a smell or even greater problems that might cause embarrassment. It’s polite to tell them if they don’t know. But if they do know, like in my case, don’t pick on them. In fact, you probably don’t even have to mention it. I knew that I stunk. There was nothing I could do about it. I had to do this job, and it was just part of my life. When I had done it, I smelled for three to four days. But my friends were pretty good to me about it. They didn’t pick on me face to face.

However, sometimes a person doesn’t know that something about his or her personal presentation is awry. Not too long ago, I heard that a man was going out to speak in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, and his fly was down. Not only was his fly down, but his shirt tail, was sticking through it. Some little old lady walked up to him and said, “Hey, your fly’s down,” right before the speech. He was so grateful! A lot of people would be embarrassed to tell him. Some people might just mock him. But this lady was willing to actually tell him that his fly was down, saving him the embarrassment of finding out that his fly was down only after he’d made his speech. So, try to be polite. Be sensitive when you tell people that they have a problem. But realize that telling a person that they have a problem may be one of the kindest things you can do.

Too often we say something when we should abstain, and refrain from saying what would give another person great relief. Too often we are inhibited by our own embarrassment and fear. I can’t help but wonder how much good we could do for others by not saying those things that we wouldn’t want said to us and saying those things that are in others’ best interest. Even if it is hard to say, just say what you know you should with empathy and kindness.

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