The Thumper Rule – If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say

I heard my father’s voice in my head: “Be nice,” so I choked out a strained “thank you” through a fake smile. What I really wanted to say was, “Are you KIDDING me?!!” 

The young Airman standing in front of me had very proudly secured an all black Toyota Forerunner from the Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, motor pool that he thought was, “a cool color.” In a place where the summer temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, I had a black car without tinted windows. And I had to say “thank you.” In fact, if I’d said anything else, I’m sure I’d have crushed him because he thought he was doing me a favor. Not everyone has a black car in Kuwait. In fact, in the year I was there I never saw another black car! It was unheard of in the desert country of Kuwait because the Kuwaitis knew better.

As I tore my stunned gaze away from the solar oven that was about to be my command vehicle, I searched for something to say.  Heck, I’d have left there and had a beer to drown my sorrows–except General Order No 1 prohibited the consumption of alcohol in the Central Command Area of Responsibility. So, I smiled, thanked the young man, and left before I said something I knew I’d regret.

What Thumper Said–Sometimes

In the classic Disney film, Bambi, there is a scene when Bambi’s cottontail companion Thumper is corrected by his mother after he makes a rude comment about Bambi. In reply to his mother’s, “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”, he replies sweetly, “If you don’t have somethin’ nice to say, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” It’s good advice that seems more difficult to abide by in the digital age.

It’s easy in the heat of the moment and particularly online to be more direct and verbally aggressive than we would’ve been otherwise. It’s particularly easy when the interface between you and another person is a computer screen that you take with you everywhere (like your phone or tablet). It’s gotten so bad for some that a few friends of mine have abandoned all social media completely. I think a great many people, fearful of others’ harsh words or perhaps their own, have simply ceded the public square to the trolls.

Light a Candle

The truth is very, very few of us enjoy being mean or nasty. There are a few people out there who seem to thrive on the pain and embarrassment of others, but most people really don’t like confrontation or meanness. But just like the old saying, “Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle,” we can actually do something about it.

It starts with living out what you believe, and doing so in a positive and constructive way. As my own father wisely told me, “Taking the coat off someone else’s back doesn’t make mine any warmer.” He means, tearing others down doesn’t build us up–it actually brings all of us down together. If we truly believe that other humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “in the image and likeness of God,” shouldn’t we treat our fellow humans as if that were true? If we actually believe in the ideal that “all men are brothers”, shouldn’t our words and actions reflect that belief?

I think it should, and that’s our way to light a candle. When the conversation gets bad, we can find a way to show love to one another and bring a little peace with our words, or even silence. If you are human and mess up, then apologize as best you can and try to be better next time. Even if we need to correct something or defend ourselves or others, we can do that peacefully and with love.

That’s lighting a candle, too. And it’s also what Thumper would’ve done.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

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