To produce some good

Should I say something? Let me get back to you on that.   Self portrait, August 2015

Should I say something? Let me get back to you on that.
Self portrait, August 2015

“I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.”Abraham Lincoln

To borrow some famous words of Yogi Berra, Lincoln really didn’t say everything he said, but apparently he really said this.  And WOW, what a quote.  Just think how much better the world would be if EVERYONE followed this rule.

Assuming one doesn’t quibble over the question “good for whom?” (which might be used to justify anything that generates publicity or commercial profit) I think it’s safe to say that a huge percentage of thoughtless and harmful chatter would be promptly eliminated if we took this idea to heart.

Can you imagine how talk radio and news commentary would be transformed by this principle? But closer to home, how might it change our everyday conversations? I like to think most of what I say is at least harmless, but I’m a long way from meeting this standard myself.

I invite you to join me in an experiment this week.  I’m going to try being more aware of how much of what I say (or write) can pass Lincoln’s test.  For some of us, this will mean saying less; for others of us, it might mean saying MORE, in the form of compliments to those who need them, encouraging words to people who are struggling, and being unafraid to share positive ideas for practical improvements in places where we tend to feel silent disapproval for how things are.

If you were to adopt Lincoln’s policy regarding your own speech, would you end up saying less? Or more?  Or the same amount, with a different focus?  Share your ideas in the comments, and let’s hope to produce some good with what we say here.


  1. Hmmm, I think I would say less, and I’m on the saying less journey.
    Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow(-er) to get angy has been my mantra of late.

    • Timi, I’m with you on the same journey, but I think you are ahead of me — is that you I see in the far distance? That babbling noise drifting up from behind you is probably my voice. “Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to get angry” are words of divine wisdom, and I appreciate your reminding me of them today! It should be the mantra for many of us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hope you have a wonderful week ahead.

      • MaryAnn

        Well said: Timi & Julia! Great words to absorb & heed!

        • Thank you, Mary Ann! 🙂

  2. Ann

    First of all, what a beautiful self portrait!!

    Attention to Lincoln’s quote is so needed today. Some days I feel as though I’m drowning in all the negativity and news-generated hysteria that surrounds us.

    Here’s a paraphrase from Dear Abby: before repeating something, ask yourself (1) is it true, (2) is it helpful and (3)is it kind? Not as profound or eloquent as Lincoln but similar in intent.

    So glad you’re back! Prayers continuing for your family.


    • Thank you, Ann! I think I might have read that same Dear Abby many years ago, because I recall those words and have thought many times that they set a difficult but fitting standard for what we say. We appreciate your continued prayers as we move through the stages of grief and adjustment. Thanks for being with us.

    • Nice!

  3. blseibel

    OH I try, I try not to speak too quickly but mull over my words before I spout them. I don’t always succeed but I try. I never heard this quote and I love it. I so want to do good and that
    leaves me to overthink sometimes and not speak especially to my husband who takes so much as condemnation even when it’s not meant that way.. Communication has been a topic around this house, my husband and I seem to have stopped communicating and now we are trying but sometimes I get frozen in fear of saying the wrong thing. I will keep this quote in mind and keep trying to build up with my words.

    • Hey, we have something else in common here — my dear Jeff and I have many communication snags around the issue of one of us (often him) being offended or hurt by something said that was not meant as criticism. Overthinking is a big problem with me, too, and I think we can err on the side of too much silence (of course a talker such as I am would think so) but most of the men I know would appreciate MORE silence from their wives, as long as it was a loving silence and not sullen. When I stop talking, Jeff usually feels there’s something bothering me. At times I find that writing my thoughts out (especially appreciative ones) in a note or card can be helpful. Words are so easily misunderstood or interrupted or unintentionally ignored by someone whose mind is elsewhere. I plead guilty to that! I too will strive to keep Lincoln’s wisdom in mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  4. 🙂 Dear Julia, I would definitely say MUCH less! I would keep my opinions to myself, I would wait to be asked and I would think before I spoke 🙂 Good luck to me with all that!! But it would be a very good thing for me to make a brave attempt at!! Thank you for the inspiration. xoxo

    • Dear Pauline, I am glad you were not TOO silent when we were together (or should I say, I am glad you managed to get a few words in edgewise between all my chatter) because I treasure the wise and witty things you said when you were here. You helped me more than you know. Thanks for being here today via internet, which is almost as good as in person!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, I was so happy to see your blog and your sweet, thoughtful gaze today first thing. I am guilty of speaking before thinking and really would like to see some helpful advice here. I really appreciate that you pushed ahead to quickly answer so many comments and spared nothing in your replies. That’s the “Julia way”! My caring thoughts are crossing the miles. Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, thanks for your always-generous support. It is indeed the “Julia way” to spare nothing when it comes to words, but alas, that often is not an admirable trait! However, we all need those who stand ready to encourage us when we occasionally hit the target in our fumbling around to do the right thing. You are a true pillar of support, hope and inspiration! You have made a great difference in my life, and I will always feel grateful for you! (Ahmad’s English Afternoon tea at Club Verandah today. See you there!)

  6. MaryAnn

    Julia! What a terrific photo of you! A world of contemplating in one shot. You have been on my mind & in my prayers everyday! I love you!
    To answer the query in this post: I will aspire to say less & with a different focus. Thank you for your encouragement to rise above the “norm”.

    • Thank you, Mary Ann — I can feel those prayers, keeping my chin above the surface even when my limbs grow tired of treading water. Your focus always seemed spot on to me, but maybe I was simply blessed to see you at all the right times. As for saying less…our dear husbands might exchange knowing glances upon hearing our joint resolve to do that. You know, the kind of glances that say “We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?” but of course, say it with affection rather than disdain. Love you too! and also love these cross-continental visits made possible by this computer, whose glitches are so often cantankerous and annoying, but whose matchless connectivity is greatly appreciated!

      • MaryAnn

        I agree about our “husbands’ glances”. They speak volumes. Heehee!

        • They probably wonder why we need so many words. 😀

  7. Great post and subject. I was married to man with diarrhea of the mouth. A lot of what he said was unkind. He wondered why I all but quit speaking. I told him there was little I could add most of the time of any consequence, but when I did speak he should darn well listen because it would be important. I listen to so many complain about others that I prefer silence. Voice is energy. Be careful how you use it. That’s my take on what Lincoln said. I don’t speak unless I want to add something good and kind, at least that’s my objective. We are all imperfect but we should try to be more kind with our words.

    • Marlene, you are so right about the energy of voice. It reminds me of Maya Angelou’s statement that “words are things, and they matter.” When Matt was in middle school and was being ridiculed by classmates, his teacher told him to say that lame and hateful rhyme “sticks and stones my break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I sent him back to school with a different version to recite to her: “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words can hurt my feelings.” I told him he was right to protest against verbal abuse. So many who would never dream of physically harming another will be thoughtless or downright spiteful with words. I confess I have been in that number far too many times, so perhaps I should not cast stones, but this gives me all the more reason to watch my mouth. It’s a sobering thought indeed, to “consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Our words can kindle a warm fire in a cozy hearth, or start a raging blaze that destroys far more than we imagine.

      • You are so right about the spark in the forest. Groups will take up the chant to feel part of not realizing the damage they do.
        It also applies to the words we use on ourselves. So many of us have said derogatory things about ourselves,(yes, I’m guilty) not realizing the the body believes every word we say. I’m much kinder to myself these days or try to be.

        • SO TRUE! Whenever Jeff says something pessimistic about his diagnosis or status, I ask him not to give his body permission to let the cancer take over. I honestly believe that the things we tell ourselves (and others) have far greater consequence than we realize. I had a very interesting experience recently in a department store dressing room, where I was trying on some jeans. Looking in the mirror I was startled to see a hand-written note scrawled with some sort of “Sharpie” type marker, right on the top right corner of the glass. It said: “You are beautiful – DON’T HATE WHAT YOU SEE!” I loved it! Normally I view graffiti as a mild form of vandalism, but I hope nobody cleaned that mirror up.

          • I would love to see a note like that in a dressing room. Maybe I’ll go spread them around like little love notes. I rarely, try things on at the store as I’ve always had a distorted sense of self. You should never lie to yourself but rephrasing things in a positive light is always good.

            • I agree! I considered using little post-it notes to spread a similar message. I might have even taken a photo of that mirror with my cell phone, intending to post it online and hope it would go viral. I’ll have to look for it. Let’s spread the word — BARBIE IS PLASTIC. YOU ARE REAL. REAL IS BETTER. 😀

  8. HarryS

    “Lord fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and stop me when I’ve said enough.”

    • Harry, I just love that little rhyme. It feels as if someone wrote it just for me! 🙂

  9. Cute picture, Julia!
    I think I’ll just aim to think before I speak. There is a lot of tension at work, and my sense of humor might not be appreciated or seem insensitive.
    (Can a “sense” of humor be “insensitive?” Whoops! There I go, again! Clearly, I can use some practice!)

    • Susan, I once had a co-worker who was a close companion in a less-than-ideal work situation. She was a serious person, a deep thinker with much study in psychology though it was not her primary field. She believed that most humor is rooted in hostility. I was somewhat shocked when she told me this, as I think humor is the oil that keeps the machine of life from grinding to a halt. But listening to her reasons, I understood why she felt as she did.

      That was an eye-opener for me. I began to see many instances (even in myself) of humor that masked unflattering opinions of others, and I tried to keep in mind that there is a huge difference between benevolent humor and spiteful or insensitive joking. Sometimes the latter can be masked as the former. The old Golden Rule can’t be beat in these situations: how would I feel if someone was laughing about something similar in my life?

      Having said that, there is such a thing as being overly-sensitive. One of the things we loved most about our Daddy was his ability to laugh at himself and not get upset (as Mama often did) when his boisterous kids would make affectionate fun of our parents. In a tense situation, sometimes humor can be just the ticket to break the tension. But I try not to laugh when someone present is obviously deeply upset, even if something about the situation seems humorous to me. Often we are able to laugh later about something that seems catastrophic at the moment of our own overly-emotional reaction. None of us likes to feel as if we must walk on eggshells all the time, so I also try to temper my own tendency to resent others laughing at something I don’t consider funny. Life is such a balancing act, isn’t it?

      • Julia, it sure is. Someone once told me that “sarcasm” means “tearing of the flesh.” Whoa. Not something that I’d want to do to someone.
        I can see why your daddy was so well – loved. When we can laugh at ourselves (and not be offended when others laugh along) it seems to help smooth the wrinkles.

        • Humor really does ease the way. I sometimes think I could never have survived this long without being able to laugh at myself and at the general absurdity of so many situations we face. I have resolved to avoid sarcasm completely. I’m sure it sometimes creeps in, but I try to be aware of it and hold my tongue.

    • MaryAnn

      Great play on words!

  10. Raynard

    Julia I had a small time as a volunteer DJ while stationed in Turkey years ago. I’m not a traffic reporter I wish right lol. You wanna hear my movie trailer/ James Earl Jones/Morgan Freeman voice ? I figured when I get to heaven I could have some opera music playing in the background as I announce who’s coming in lol. I talk for a living at work so as they say on that TV Show Shark tank I’m out lol Be blessed

    • Raynard, how cool that you were a DJ! I would get in trouble being a DJ or a commentator on a sports show. I would either talk too fast, to loudly, say too much or get my facts wrong. Suffice it to say I will leave the voice overs to someone else. I haven’t seen “Shark Tank” but “I’m OUT” is a phrase that will come in handy even in everyday life. 😀 Hope you have a great weekend coming up.

  11. Beautiful You…welcome back, Julia. Remembering you and family in my prayers. ❤

    • Thank you Merry. We certainly do need the prayers, and definitely appreciate them. ❤

  12. Hey little miss cutie-pa-2-T !! That’s an adorable picture of you ❤
    Well now, if I were to heed a thimble full of Mr Lincoln's wisdom I would think myself better for it. Well said sir.
    Actually, I do try to keep negativity out of my conversation and for the most part I feel I succeed. Why feel bitter and crappy when the focus of that lip-service is probably having a grande ol' day despite of it all. That makes no sense to me. I don't enjoy the company of people who are constantly negative either. Hey!? Did you get reminded of this as a child? "When you haven't anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". I did, even though the person who said it was a terrible gossip. But luckily, my dear dad made a habit of kindness, I think he and Abe could have been good buddies. Dad was a good listener and that's a attribute I try to emulate. We'd talk on the phone for an hour one week and he'd want a complete update on everything the next week. It'd be hard to be a good listener and chatter on negatively at the same time. That's my theory anyways, 'good listeners are positive people'…..pass it on xo K

    • K, one of the things I so loved about you from the beginning is that you are such a sunny and positive person. There is so much that’s wrong with the world, and we could focus on that 100% of the time and drive ourselves and everyone else crazy. I’d much rather be thankful and happy…and in the end, it really is a choice, isn’t it? I am so happy you were lucky enough to have a kind father who knew how to listen to you! I’m sure that went a long way toward making you such a fun and generous person.

      • I’m lucky in so many ways, blessed too. Thank you J. Pssssst, (whispering) I haven’t told anyone else yet but I’m spending my next birthday in London…..we just booked it….GASP! xoxoxo K

        • WHOA, this is SO EXCITING!!! I can’t wait to get photos and tales from you (and I hope Alyster will be on board too)! Thanks so much for letting me in on the secret. It brought a big grin to my face. 😀 😀 😀

  13. Michael

    Some us have a snarky side that comes out occasionally, sometimes too easily to those closest to us.
    Did not Lincoln also say in regards to dinner parties,” I would rather stay quiet and be thought of a fool than to open my mouth and remove all doubt.” By the way I thought Holbrook’s character portrayal of him in “North and South,” pretty remarkable. I am still reading , “The March.” We just finished the North and South trilogy on disc- 23 hours- only a day or so. Good story line though. Brilliant and valiant men and women on both sides. Sometimes the only words I come up with about war is – what a waste. Of course there are those who say the war is still going on and I think I have some idea of what they mean: states rights, corporate greed, weapons profiteering and race relations not withstanding.

    • Michael, what a waste indeed! So true of so many tragedies that result from human foolishness and refusal to cooperate. There is much more food for interesting discussion here, but I’ll have to save it for another visit, as I’m grabbing a few minutes to catch up a bit as the chaos continues in our efforts to fill the enormous gap our father left. No one did more to try to prepare an easy path for his survivors to follow, but alas, it’s still complicated notwithstanding. Thanks for being here with always-interesting observations!

  14. Michael

    Did you get Raynard’s lemon cake recipe?

    • I’m not sure. I did get a lovely photo that I had time to glance at briefly, but I have not yet had time to reply, and if there was a recipe, I missed it. I’ll look again, because the cake looked tasty.

  15. Michael

    Yes- Looked mighty tasty. I had his e-mail once but lost it. He also has a blog?. Right now you are the lone blog I visit- so I would hate to be a two-timer. Today I had 24 Face book notifications. What should I do? My oh my-all in a tizzy.

    • Michael, would you believe I never, never check my Facebook notifications? Seeing anything on Facebook is kind of a hit or miss thing with me. Sometimes I get an email that lets me know someone has posted something, but most of these go to my spam filter (though I did not send them there) and I just haven’t had time to go and dig them back out. Facebook for me is a pleasant diversion when I have time for it, but lately, that has not been possible. I do like having it there, to check on someone I’m thinking of, or to get in touch with someone whose email address I don’t have. Raynard is on FB too but I only found out about it fairly recently. He and Mary seem to be quite techno-savvy. He is the one who told me about how to use Google Voice, which is the greatest thing since sliced bread; now I never have to check that stupid Verizon robot voicemail. That autumn cake with salted caramel frosting sounds good too…

  16. Michael

    For some reason -I am bogging down on, “The March” though the medical information is fascinating and I understand he -Doctorow- did quite a bit of research in that area. If there is any truth to the way the women of all races were treated by Sherman and his troops- taken as quasi concubines- sexual slaves etc- it is not difficult to see how lingering family resentments would easily continue. To imagine one of my relatives treated so leads to instant – seething emotion.
    Recently a patient of Japanese origin who had relatives in Hiroshima during the bombing time – commented that the assault was against the Geneva convention prohibiting the assault of civilians. Everything depends on our point of view.
    I guess in regards to chaos all I can say is-“this too will come to pass.” And the advice of Julian of Norwich -“All will be well.” I find that somehow comforting these days. Julian I believe was way ahead of her time.

    • Michael, I “bog down” in books all the time. I stay with them because usually the return for time invested can be greater with a more difficult work; complexity in a story is often desirable, particularly when it recounts something as enormous as a war or a period of history. I have taken as long as 2-3 years to finish some longer works. I always have several books going at one time, because different kinds of reading fit different times and situations.

      It’s funny that your perspective on Sherman and the trauma he inflicted on Georgia has been made sharper and perhaps more negative by Doctorow’s book — interestingly, that same book gave me MORE sympathy for him! That just shows you how much our differing backgrounds can affect our notions going into a novel. I don’t know as much as I’d like about Julian of Norwich, but I think I’d enjoy learning more. I’m happy that some of the great female voices of faith in decades and centuries past are being more widely heard.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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