I had heard the maxim, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all," in cartoons as a kid. I never really thought it was appropriate (since saying things which weren't nice was sometimes the best way to deal with a situation, particularly when it could be helpful), so I just didn't think about it much.

A few years back, it came back to me when I was taking logic. I deduced the contrapositive (thanks to kaatunut for pointing out that this is not actually the correct contrapositive of what's written--I think it's actually an accurate representation of what's meant, though): that 'if you said something, then it was nice,' which seemed to make sense (if you follow the maxim, anyway). Then I started shuffling the components around a bit more, and came up with the title of this node, and I thought about it.

It's surprisingly good advice. It requires suppressing one's social fears to implement well, because it's unusual to say nice things to people as they occur to you, rather than when a cue for it comes up, particularly to strangers. My experience has been that most of the nice things people say are brought about by just such cues, though, and as a result, sincerity is more in question. Being nicer than the situation warrants, or even than is most appropriate, is usually taken as a sign that the comment really IS sincere, and I've never yet found anyone who reacted negatively to a sincere compliment.

Anecdote: shortly after I first thought of this, I saw the most beautiful smile I've ever seen. It was just radiant--genuine and lovely, displaying pure delight. I wanted to let the smiler know how it made me feel to behold that smile, and since I was only going to be in the neighborhood for a weekend, I really didn't have time to become well enough acquainted for that to be appropriate, and I feared it would be taken as a come-on. So I wrote a note, and left it with a friend to deliver to the eyes above that fabulous smile. I feel fantastic about that experience, and I'm ever-so-glad I wrote that note.

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