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Telling the truth is an important aspect of human interrelationships. We expect honesty from those around us and in return, we tend to give it back. At least, that’s the theory.

It’s a fine line, however, between being honest and being an asshole. Telling someone what you think is important; sometimes, however, it’s best just to shut up – or even telling them a half-truth or an outright lie. For example, it’s one thing to tell a woman that a dress isn’t particularly flattering. It’s another to tell her that a dress makes her look fat. It’s downright dangerous to tell your fiancée that her wedding dress makes her look like a hippo.

We all like to voice our opinions. We’re downright eager to do it; ask someone what they think and they’re only too happy to tell you. Opinions, as the saying goes, are like assholes – everyone’s got one. That’s my opinion anyway.

But an opinion is just that. You don’t have to be particularly knowledgeable to voice one. Most of the time, our opinions come from external sources – the news media, friends and family, the Internet. More often than not our opinions come from sound bites and slogans; not a very informed way of coming up with our own idea, but it beats reading, right? That’s why when I read the commentary on a news article online, I’m often appalled at just how ignorant most of it is and much of it is used as an excuse to flame somebody, or to spout off some jingoistic nonsense about America being number one and all that happy horse manure (America is many things, but it isn’t the best place on Earth in every way; to think so is arrogant and uninformed).

We do the same thing when it comes to personal matters. We often will give free advice to people who aren’t looking for any, spouting off on things we don’t have the complete facts about on most occasions. Often that can spell hurt feelings and ruined friendships, or at the very least some uncomfortable silences between us. I’ve been responsible for way too many of those in my day.

The trick is to know when to express your opinion and when to keep it to yourself. The answer is surprisingly simple – never volunteer it when it’s not asked for, and when it is asked for, give it as honestly as you can while trying to ensure that you aren’t hurting the other person’s feelings. If your fiancée asks you what you think of her wedding dress, tell her you don’t like it. If pressed for a reason, tell her it accentuates the wrong features instead of her best ones. You don’t have to tell her that it makes her look like a stripper even if it does. Always keep in mind that you are dealing with someone who has feelings; tact is an invaluable tool to have.

Not everyone has it. I know people who bulldoze their way through life, always giving the excuse that “I’m just being honest,” or that “I have to say how I feel. I can’t keep it inside or I’ll be hurt.” First of all, both of those excuses are bullshit. It’s not all about you. Honesty has a direct connection to cruelty; you may tell the world you’re just being honest but in reality you’re being cruel. It’s a way of making yourself feel better, feel superior to the rest of us. Putting someone down is very often a means of pulling yourself up, and using honesty as a kind of self-righteous blanket is not only mean, it’s also transparent. Most people can see through that kind of excuse.

Secondly, you don’t have to say how you feel. Maybe your best friend is in a toxic relationship; maybe they are going down a road that leads directly to Heartbreak Avenue. Maybe you feel the urge to tell them that their boyfriend or girlfriend is an utter dirtbag. Do yourself a favor; resist the urge. You may think you’re doing it for your friend, but in reality you’re doing it for yourself. Most people who are in a relationship don’t want to hear the bad stuff and telling them that you think they can do better is only going to drive them further into the arms of the person you think is bad for them. Unless there’s physical abuse going on, or the situation is dangerous and you fear for their life and limb, shut your piehole. It is much better to be there to pick up the pieces then send them stubbornly to stay in a relationship longer than they need to. It may be hard, but chances are they will find out on their own that the person they’re with is wrong for them. Be their friend, yes but don’t be their judge. If they want to know what you think, fine. Tell them “I don’t think this person is right for you.” If pressed, give them your reasons, but always be civil and try not to be insulting. If all you have is a feeling, make sure you’re clear about it; “I can’t really put my finger on it, but I really don’t like this person. Something about them bothers me.”

Take it from someone who has learned the hard way how easy it is to bruise others with words; an opinion is much more valuable from someone who only gives them rarely. Certainly I use my blog to express myself and from time to time I might aggravate people with my opinions, particularly when it comes to politics and religion. I understand that and know that those folks who are politically conservative or religious might disagree with some of my beliefs. That’s perfectly fine. It’s one thing to say “I think conservatives are being hypocritical in their Obama-bashing.” It’s quite another to say “I think conservatives are hypocrites.”

First of all, I don’t believe all conservatives are hypocrites (there are some who are, just as there are plenty of liberals who are too). I don’t agree with their political agenda in all cases, but I respect them enough to believe that they are as sincere in their beliefs as I am in mine. One of my closest friends from college is very conservative, and we’ve had some spirited discussions about various issues but I don’t for one moment think that his opinions are meant as a personal attack on me, nor do I think that he is a lesser person because we disagree politically. I know he would have my back in a heartbeat as I would his, even if we agree to disagree on socialized medicine. I respect his opinions even though they differ from mine. Appreciating differing viewpoints is the path to wisdom.

Expressing ourselves is a basic need; it may not be as vital as feeding ourselves or protecting ourselves, but it is vital nonetheless. We have an inner need to be recognized, to be validated by others. While that need usually is much more insistent in teenagers, who are struggling to find themselves, it remains with us all our lives. We need that validation; otherwise we find ourselves feeling inconsequential, marginal. If we aren’t making some kind of mark on the world, we feel as if we’re failures at life.

We all have a voice and a need to use it for matters both deep and otherwise. Most of us, sadly, don’t know how to use it properly, how to express ourselves without inflicting pain on others or sometimes, without adequately explaining what we’re trying to get across. While saying “that sucked” might be all the opinion some are capable of, at the end of the day that’s just bull makings. Saying that something sucks – well, honestly. Saying why it sucks and how it could be better – that’s honesty. That’s the difference between saying something to make yourself feel better, and saying something meaningful that people will respect and consider. Anyone can be a wiseass; it’s far better to be wise and the truly wise know it’s better to keep their mouths shut and be thought a fool than to say something and remove all doubt.


Somalia Pavilion

Somalia Pavilion

THEME: Boosaaso: A City with Unlimited Potential

PAVILION: The Pavilion has a distinctly modern tone with blue and white color tones and geometric shapes and curves.

Somalia Pavilion

EXHIBIT: Posters, interactive video displays and slide shows help to display exhibits on the ancient relationships between China and Somalia, Somali culture and traditions, the geographic environment of Somalia and the unique cuisine and food culture of the East African nation. The overall impression is meant to convey Somalia’s commitment to modernization while retaining the wisdom of our ancient culture and maintaining the traditions that help define us as a people. The final display of the Pavilion shows models of camels in a desert setting, an iconic image of the Somali culture.

Somalia Pavilion

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.

Note: This Pavilion was located in the Africa Joint Pavilion.

Politically Incorrect

Like many who are or were journalists, I have a great regard for Freedom of Expression. Like most writers, I believe that to be one of the true cornerstones to American democracy and the American way of life. It is also a responsibility that should be wielded with wisdom, courtesy and regard for others.

That said I have an inherent dislike for political correctness. Even if I disagree with the sentiment, I am a firm believer that the person expressing it has a right to do so, even if it labels them as a racist, a homophobe, a misogynist or a just plain asshole.

Some words are hurtful, no doubt about it. Maturity and compassion dictate that you shouldn’t use those words out of respect to others. Not everybody, however, possesses those qualities. Some people are immature and hateful, and express themselves accordingly. I tend to avoid people like that, but I wouldn’t come out and say they don’t have a right to say what they feel. Of course, I have the same right to tell them that they’re behaving like jerks.

I distrust anyone who says that such discourse shouldn’t be allowed. People shouldn’t make jokes that come at the expense of women, ethnic groups, religious beliefs or lifestyle choices, particularly on public airwaves where impressionable sorts will hear them and get the idea that sort of behavior is okay.

I disagree with that 100%. First of all, I try to give people credit for understanding the difference between telling a joke about gay people and being homophobic. Sure, there are people who don’t get it – but they’re not going to get it whether they hear the joke on a street corner or on the Tonight Show. Quite frankly, those people are ignorant and you could keep them in school for a hundred years and they’ll still be ignorant.

We have a culture that tends to respond to the lowest common denominator. I believe that most people have enough sense and maturity to be able to hear things that are unpleasant or even hurtful without having their day ruined. If someone makes remarks about my weight, my lack of hair, my age or my Cuban background, I chalk it up as someone who has issues and has to make other people feel bad in order to feel good. Some of those people need therapy, and others are losers to the core and can’t be saved.

I’m not saying that you should go out there and start using hateful language that’s sure to offend. Once again, it’s a matter of common sense. Offending people unnecessarily accomplishes nothing. Most people who go out there to offend people are doing it to get attention. Wise people simply don’t give it to them.

We don’t always act with wisdom, however. Instead, we raise a hue and cry about how people are supposed to act and tell people they’re not allowed to act in a certain manner. I, for one, hate to be told that I can’t do something. It is supposedly a free country after all.

When a comedian points out a foible that has a ring of truth to it, I laugh. Laughter is a very powerful thing. It can make an emotion more powerful, or lessen the power of another. When behavior is made to be ridiculous, that behavior becomes less threatening. Yes, some comedians can go too far from time to time, but that’s all right. When a comedian onstage makes a joke about gay men being catty or fashion-conscious, I understand that it’s a stereotype and a behavior that is being joked about; it is not an indictment against homosexuality.

You see, the problem is that some people don’t think that gay men or African-Americans or women can laugh at themselves, or perhaps that they shouldn’t laugh at themselves. I contend that if you can’t laugh at yourself, then when someone makes a joke about you, you are being laughed at; when you are able to laugh at yourself in the same circumstance, you are being laughed with. The difference is tangible and crucial.

Laughter unites us. It makes us stronger, and allows us to see our own faults. Humor can soften harsh realities. Sure, there are people who make jokes at the expense of others for the sole purpose of hurting them but for the most part, I believe them to be a very small minority. Most people who make jokes are doing so to get a laugh. It takes some inner strength to be able to laugh at ourselves, and that inner strength can be channeled in many positive ways.

We use political correctness as a means of shaming people into behaving a certain way, and that’s one of the things I despise most about it. For example, we’ve created a societal stigma about guys who watch porn. Obviously, they’re all perverts, right? They see women as objects and can’t have a real relationship because they disrespect women; if they didn’t, they would never look at a picture of a nude woman, or watch a movie in which women do all sorts of sexual acts with all sorts of people.

Now, I’m not one to deny that there aren’t guys like that out there, but I think a lot of women would be surprised that not every guy who likes porn is a lowlife scumbag would-be rapist. Not every guy is into porn but many that are into it are actually decent guys. They find the sight of a naked woman beautiful, and they are stimulated by the sexual act. They can enact fantasies that they would never dream of asking their mate to participate in by watching others do it. It satisfied a need in that regard, but we consider that behavior objectionable and we make people feel bad for having those needs in the first place.

That’s judgmental and arrogant to say the least. People feel what they feel; not everything we feel is polite or nice, but sometimes we just have to go with it. If people like sex – women as well as men – that’s only natural. Demonizing those people is only a sign of our own insecurity. Women who like sex are not sluts; they’re just women who like sex. Men who like porn are not perverts; they’re just men who like porn. That may not be a politically correct view but frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass.

Self-expression should be guided by one’s conscience and one precept alone; does it hurt anybody. If you can answer that question with a no, then fine. However, if the answer is yes then you should think long and hard about saying what you want to say. Common courtesy tells us that we should try to avoid hurting others as much as we can.

However, that doesn’t mean that we have the right to regulate how people express themselves. Our laws provide that truth is protection against libel, but no law anywhere on the planet protects us from offense. Being offended is simply a fact of life. I get offended nearly every time Sarah Palin opens her mouth, but I would not deny her the right to speak her peace.

We spend far too much time apologizing for what we say and how we feel. None of us are perfect and none of us are going to express ourselves perfectly. Most of us do the best we can and sometimes there are jackwagons out there who say things just to get attention; most of them are adolescent little boys who will eventually grow out of it although unfortunately, on the Internet, what you say is eternal and someday you may have cause to regret what you post. The 16-year-old dumbass who posts that illegal workers should be shot on sight, all Mexicans are inferior and that gay people are all going to hell may find those remarks coming back to haunt them when they run for office 30 years down the line. However, that 16-year-old shouldn’t be told he can’t say those things but personally I might sit that 16-year-old down and have a real conversation with them. Maybe he needs to meet a few Mexican-Americans and gay people. Maybe he just needs to learn the consequences of his freedom of speech. Either way, as hateful as remarks like that are, I can’t bring myself to say that they can’t be spoken or written. Telling people how to think and restricting what they can say just seems far worse than being offended by those sorts of remarks.

So to Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, I say go on and say that God hates fags. Feel free to picket at the funerals of soldiers who died in Afghanistan defending this country. You have every right to do so. It makes it easier to figure out that you’re a USDA choice, grade-A meathead with nothing valid to say. After all, I have the right to tell a guy like that to go straight to Hell and urinate on a Bible in front of his church if he has the right to say the things that he says, right?