Jul 4, 2014

Why Say Anything?

This morning, while doing a Google search for something in some way related, I came across several results for a quote by Melissa Etheridge regarding Angelina Jolie's elective double mastectomy. This is old news from last year, but new news to me. I do remember reading about A.J.'s choice, apparently done because she discovered she carried a gene that predisposes her to cancer. Her mother had died of cancer, and just days after Jolie's announcement her aunt also passed away from cancer. In an interview, Brad Pitt called his longtime partner's act "brave" and "heroic." Well, Ms. Etheridge, a breast cancer survivor herself, took exception to that characterization, saying, " I wouldn't call it the brave choice. I actually think it's the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer."

My first reaction to reading that quote was to feel a sympathetic blow to the gut. Why would anyone, under any circumstances feel the need to give expression to such a thought, and in public, no less? I feel blessed to be able to say cancer has not impacted my life personally. It's not among the many health concerns we have in our family. That does not, however, preclude me from understanding how inappropriate Etheridge's statement was in that moment. Just because it wasn't her own choice doesn't make it wrong for someone else to make such a personal decision. I am sure Brad Pitt regarded it as brave in his family's case because she did it for the sake of the many children they've chosen to raise together. That's what makes it heroic. And when you think abut Aneline Jolie's 'sex symbol' status, yes, it is brave to give up what many women (and men) regard as an integral part of their sexual identity.

My reaction to Melissa Etheridge's mouthiness has nothing to do with my own feelings about sexuality, or about cancer. It has everything to do with being humane and compassionate. It has to do with us being more circumspect about what we say and the energy we put out into the universe when we express thoughts and feelings about other people and their personal choices. I am not immune from run-on mouth disorder; in fact, I've uttered many, many things I wish I hadn't, as recent as a few days ago. Most of us do it on a regular basis, perhaps even more so with the popularity and availability of social media. We are quick to render opinions on everything and everyone. It's a bad habit, and a difficult one to break. It is worth working to break, however. If we want a better world for ourselves and our children to live in, we need to do away with the notion that everyone else has a right to our opinions.

A great quote/thought comes to mind, one that I've heard a lot in recent years, and have seen in memes circulating on Facebook. It's attributed to the various philosophers, including the Buddha and Shirdi Sai Baba. It goes something like this: 

"Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind; is it necessary; is it true; does it improve upon the silence?"

That's a good thought, a very good thought. I'm working it out.

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