My 10 year-old daughter has a friend who never answers in the affirmative. If I ask if she wants a cherry popsicle or a grape popsicle, she answers that either is fine. If I try to find out if she prefers to spit her watermelon seeds or remove them from the melon before eating it, she shrugs. If I inquire if she wants to spend the night at our house or would rather go home to hers, she says she doesn't care.
I suspect that she actually does have an opinion about something. I also suspect that her mother has told her to mind her manners, say please and thank you, and behave agreeably, which is why she never lets on that she has an opinion. Southern women have nobly suffered like this for years.
But I'm a hostess and I want my daughter's guest to have a lovely experience when she's with us. I want to make her feel welcome and comfortable. Without any indication of her likes and dislikes, however, that's a difficult task for even the best hostess.
When I take a hard look at my own self, I see a lot of me in her. Though as I've grown older, I feel freer to express my opinion in appropriate ways and circumstances, as a child, adolescent and young adult I worked hard to never rock the boat. In the months before I was getting married, a lady from our church offered to have a luncheon in my honor. She asked me what foods I liked and what I might want her to serve. Being my polite southern self I told her, "Anything you prepare will be wonderful. Thank you so much for thinking of me," which stranded her cooking up the menu all on her own.
Which left me cutting beats into tiny slivers so I could choke them down. I spent fifteen minutes sliding green aspic surreptitiously around my plate, hoping some of the gelatinous substance would melt away so I wouldn't have to put all of it in my mouth. Therefore, I tell you, my response when asked for my opinion may have been polite, but it sure wasn't prudent. I suffered nobly.
While there are some southern women who throw their opinions around loud and proud, like Greeks throw dishes, whether asked for their thoughts or not - we call that common, by the way - there are other more refined ladies, like ourselves, who would just die. How many times have I, as a guest in someone else's home and, when asked if I would like the fried chicken or the baked chicken, responded that either would do. I really want the fried chicken, but I don't want to insult her baked chicken or take the last piece of fried chicken or ruin some image she has of me as a baked chicken eater or a thousand other ridiculous reasons for not answering affirmatively one way or the other.
Here's the truth; the real truth. If someone asks us for our opinion, she really wants to know what we think. Yes, it's entirely rude to push through life wielding our barbed, thoughtless comments and demands like a battle ax, but it's also rude to not give a definite answer when it is requested of us. The only thing that keeps us from the fried chicken is fear.
Your opinion counts. My opinion counts. Don't let erroneous politeness get in the way of it.
TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: You must first have an opinion to give one. To have an opinion, we've got to know ourselves: What we like; what we don't; what we value; what isn't important to us at all, etc. In your Book of Lists make a list of the foods you enjoy, your favorite vacation places, things you would never spend money on, items you would pay top dollar for, and any other self-defining lists you can conjure. It's a great start to having an opinion, when asked.