If You Can’t Say Something Nice: One Writer’s Leap From the Backspace

The Backspace key on her keyboard was so worn, the “ksp” was completely missing. She called it the “Bacace” key, and she liked to say it in fake Italian accent. Bah-KAH-che. She had no idea if “bacace” really was an Italian word or what it meant. She just liked the sound of it. Bah-KAH-che. And it had served her well. For her, writing was the only way she could form words. Get her in a room of people where opinions and ideas were flying, and she felt like running. Her tongue would seize. Anything she knew about the subject would scatter like disturbed seagulls in a city park. Her mind would flee. Her words would become tangled. But writing was better. With writing, she could backspace her formed words and reform them if they didn’t quite say what she wanted, or sound how she wanted them to sound. She could roll them around and shape them. She had all-important time to make the words settle down, birds for the man on the bench with the bag of bread crumbs in his hand.

She wrote mostly of the banal, a blog read by five people who were already friends or family. She was careful in those posts to avoid making anyone angry or saying something they could possibly disagree with. She qualified everything. “For me,” and “personally” and “it seems like” were used a lot. She didn’t want to make her readers feel she was telling them what to do, what was real, or what was right. It was only real or right for her, and she wasn’t trying to make waves. After all, these are people she sees regularly. Parents, in-laws, friends. Waves made for awkward family meals.

Her fear was criticism, of having to defend her position in spoken words, those traitors who were never there when she needed them. To avoid this criticism, which was usually delivered in barbed wire that pierced her very thin skin, she avoided publishing anything that anyone could criticize. She wrote about things the people could already agree on, or who wouldn’t comment on if they didn’t.

The beauty of nature.

The tyranny of the to-do list.

Her dogs.

That “bacace” key had saved her from herself, she thought. Many times she’d gone on written rants against perceived injustices and the ugliness of the world. She had railed against those siblings, ignorance and intolerance, and against people who were so quick to judge and stomp on each other that they didn’t take the time to try to understand the other side of the issue, didn’t even bother to ask. She had deleted it all. Her mother’s words, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” rang in her mind and, once again, the Backspace key was under her pinky finger, pressed and held. Her palm reached for the mouse to drag and select whole paragraphs to cut from the piece at once. Gone, her words that she could never say out loud.

“The phrase should be ‘If you can’t say something nicely and with respect, don’t say anything at all,’ she thought, remembering all those times she’d been turned off by people who had come on too strongly, whose tone and style had been so negative that they’d actually put a wall between her and their words. If it sounds caustic, there had to be a more effective way to say it. Words were meant to be servants of our thoughts and emotions, not instruments of cruelty or spite.

Still, sometimes there are things to say that are not nice.

“You have hurt me,” is one.

“You have made a mistake” is another, as anyone with children or new employees knows.

“I do not agree with you.”

There comes a time when “If you can’t say something nice” doesn’t cut it and instead becomes a hindrance to communication. But it’s all in the delivery, she thought. On screen, on paper, out loud. It’s all in how the sentences come out.

She heard many people argue that blunt talk equals honesty. They don’t have time for anything but straightforward, no-frills, lay-it-on-the-line directness. “That, quite bluntly,” she thought, “is bullshit.” Words did not have to be – and should not be – so flowery and delicate that the message doesn’t get through. Yet people can speak their truth with kindness and compassion, an understanding that their perspective is only one perspective and that there is a living, breathing, feeling person on the other end of their words.

“If you can’t say something nice, but you still have to say something, at least say it nicely and with respect.” She exhaled a long breath. This phrase was getting too long-winded, she thought.

She eyed that Backspace key in the top right corner of her keyboard and her fingers began to move closer. Her hand slid to the right and draped over the mouse. She should delete it all, this mess of opinion that was way too wordy for anyone who got their news in 120-characters-or-less media. But she had bitten her tongue and silenced herself for so long, avoiding conflict, that she never developed the skill to effectively – compassionately or not – defend her opinions and beliefs out loud, to bridge any gaps in communication. All of her words composed with loving intention were left in draft. She had posted “at” her blog audience of five friends. She decided it was time to change that. Her eyes roamed the page then drifted down to her keyboard, where they settled on the “bacace” key. She took a deep breath, and clicked the Publish button instead.

Backspace Key

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4 Responses to If You Can’t Say Something Nice: One Writer’s Leap From the Backspace

  1. Gwen says:

    I loved it – I read through it twice and found your words really resonated with me. Different scenarios in my own life started popping into my mind – times when I used the ‘backspace’ and times maybe when I should have used it. Very well thought out, Leanna. Thank you.

    • Leanna Widgren says:

      Thank you, Gwen! I’m glad you liked it. I think we all have those moments where we wish we had or hadn’t used the backspace or the delete key!

  2. Patrice Lefebvre says:

    You, my friend, are one of the most insightful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Thank you for being so wonderfully brave.

    • Leanna Widgren says:

      I am quite blessed to have strong, secure and loving friends such as you to help me along! Thank you for always cheering me on.