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When you don’t have anything nice to say about someone … try harder

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The way we speak about others affects our own happiness, too.

Can you imagine a world where all of us lived with the attitude of wanting to see the good and never got stuck in the “bad” or negative? Speaking well of others is definitely a habit that can either be a virtue — or it can be toxic.

And the worst or most dangerous is that the brain gets used to whichever of the two we choose to carry out, which can lead us to develop a habit of thinking and speaking negatively.

Speaking well of others leads us to overlook their imperfections or faults, and to praise their virtues, qualities, gifts, and talents. It’s not that we’re trying to cover up their defects, but we want to help them so their virtues can lead them to improve in other areas as well.

Speaking badly of others is when we say anything negative, regardless of whether it is true or a lie. If we’re honest, it can be harder to focus on finding the good, both in ourselves and in others. It can seem that the defects jump to the forefront and the good is more hidden. But it should be the opposite, because by nature we are good and we have more good than evil in us.

So do this exercise for yourself: grab a pen and paper and make a list of your qualities and defects. I can almost assure you that it will be harder for you to think of your good points than your defects. And that’s what I mean when I talk about “looking for the good,” the positive things. We have to work on it until it becomes a lifestyle, a virtue.

Some time ago, for my own good, I decided that if I didn’t have anything good to say about someone, instead of opting for silence, I would try to find something nice and good in that person. But I didn’t just leave it at that; I wanted to take it a bit further. So I decided to focus on finding something good in every person I interacted with every day, and to let them know what I saw.

Trivial things like greeting the cashier at the supermarket and letting her know that the color blue looks good on her; or telling my friend Gaby that she looks beautiful today, or sending a text to my friend Ana Maria to let her know that I miss the joy of her company now that she has moved away.

I’ve been living this way for years now and today I do everything possible not to criticize people and not to let anyone get put down in front of me. It’s something we have to work on every day because it’s so easy to fall into the habit of  negativity and blame.

What lifestyle will you choose? Remember that talking about others — for good or for evil — says more about you than about them, because each one of us speaks from the fullness of our heart.

This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.

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