Would You Rather Be Right, or Kind?

It’s a question that’s been attacking me from several angles this week.

It started, I suppose, with a Facebook post from Grammarly called “25 Common Phrases That You’re Saying Wrong”. It was an interesting post, listing commonly misused phrases and the correct versions. Go have a look, I’ll wait.

Fun, right? I’ve been saying all of them correctly except for number four, but I found the (repeated) explanations in the comments section very interesting. I also realized that I don’t use the phrase “you’ve got another thing/think coming,” because I can’t think of a situation when using that wouldn’t be rude or condescending. But that’s not the point.

The comments were enlightening in another way. Many of the comments were of the “I didn’t know that, thanks!” variety,  some were debating the correctness of numbers four and 24, and seemingly hundreds were of the “It’s WRONGLY, not WRONG, dumbass” variety. But a number of comments ran in the self-righteous, “I’ve never used any of these phrases incorrectly, and anyone who has is an idiot. Why bother speaking English if you can’t do it properly?” vein.

As I was reading through the comments, a realization bit me on the nose. Are you ready for it?

These people sound like assholes, and I don’t want to be one of them.

Yes, it bothers me when people use the wrong form of “your/you’re” in anything more formal than a Facebook status, because I think clarity in expression is important, and glaring errors distract me from the message a person is trying to convey or the story they’re trying to tell.  I have been tempted to carry post-it notes and a black Sharpie in my purse so I can correct errors on signs without actually committing vandalism. I think it’s ridiculous that “irregardless” is in the dictionary, and that “literally” is now literally defined as “figuratively.”

I love English, messy pawn-shop of a language that it is, and I cringe when it’s (not its) abused.

But I’ll tell you something: I don’t love it enough to think that it’s more important than being kind. I don’t ever want to be one of those small-minded jerks who reads someone’s tweet about their dog dying and corrects the message’s grammar instead of offering sympathy.

Perfect example of what I mean: In the comments on that Grammarly post, several people said that when they ask someone, “How are you?” and the person says “Good,” they want to walk away from the conversation.

Did you catch that? Because someone said “good” instead of “well,” these self-proclaimed grammar nazis* consider that person beneath them, not worthy of notice or care. They’re more concerned with a correct response than with the fact that maybe that person said “good” with a tear in her eye or a dishonest wobble in his voice.

No, they’d rather be right than be kind.

I don’t want to be like that. I also don’t want to deal with people like that, so I think from now on I’m going to say “good” whenever someone asks me how I’m doing.  That should weed a few of them out.

This issue goes far beyond grammar, of course. That was just the first incandescent brain-flash I got this week. It applies to so many things in life. Take Batfleck (or whatever people are calling this “issue”). I understand thinking that someone made a bad casting decision for a movie. I also understand that this is important to many people. Discussing these things can be interesting, and expressing passion is important.

But when you look at the comments on Twitter and the posts on Facebook, something becomes apparent very quickly. People are more concerned with seeming clever than with the fact that they’re ripping an actual human being apart with their personal insults. “I think _______ would have been a better choice for Batman” is an opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with it. “Dare-Douche can’t be batman” is also an opinion, but it’s attempting to be hurtful to a real person. It’s also not particularly clever, and there are a lot out there that are far crueler, but you get my point. People are going for laughs, for “look how clever and wonderful I am” rather than trying to actually add something relevant and useful to the discussion.

Again, they’d rather be right (or funny, or admired by their Twitter followers) than be kind.

Have you looked at reviews of popular books on Goodreads lately? Scandals and kerfuffles aside, there are a whole lot of negative reviews that consist entirely of GIFs and statements like “_________ is the worst writer ever and should give up now” and “nice try, sweetie, better luck next time.”

I can’t and won’t claim that I’m innocent in this. I’ve made fun of celebrities who I won’t name here. I get frustrated when people are famous for being famous, or for apparently being pregnant for two years, or for spreading glitter and bad decisions like confetti. I’ve wondered out loud how people can enjoy certain books that are either badly-written or that make pre-teen girls swoon over stalkers. And there’s a place for honest criticism, for talking about the larger issues that these things bring to light, for sharing concerns over young women flocking to Twitter to beg a certain singer to beat them up because he’s OMG SO HAWT. But when it comes to the balance of being right or kind, I’m going to be making some changes. I’m going to make sure that when I share my opinions I’m focusing on my concerns or on the issues– not on insulting the celebrity/author/politician in a personal way, and certainly not on insulting the people who love their work.

This isn’t about pretending everything is sunshine and rainbows, or wanting to buy the world a Coke, or why can’t we all just get along, guys? There’s a place for honest criticism, for fans expressing their opinions on casting decisions in movies, and for defending the integrity of our language (b3caws engush is gr8, guise). There are issues that need to be discussed, even if there are people who are going to have their feelings hurt because they have different opinions. I’m not saying that I’m going to hold in my thoughts and opinions until I explode, just because I think someone won’t like what I say.

This is about me (just me) trying to make a small change. Before I open my mouth or set fingers to keyboard, I’m going to take a minute to ask, “why am I saying this?” If I’m adding to a discussion in a productive way, or if I’m offering gentle correction because I want to help someone or improve a situation, I’ll go ahead. If I’m just talking for the sake of talking, if I’m trying to sound clever or make myself feel smart because I’m right and someone else is wrong, or if I’m saying something that’s hurtful to someone on a personal level, I’m going to back off.

I’ve decided that for me, being kind is more important than being right. It’s not going to be easy to let go of my snarkiness over celebrities; I suspect I’ll be a work in progress for quite some time.

But there you go. I’m going to try.

(Please forgive me if none of this made sense. There’s an invisible troll trying to drive a foot-long section of rebar through the right side of my cranium this morning, and it’s throwing me off a bit.)

*Yes, a phrase with its own significant problems, but we’ll leave that for another time. This is dragging on as it is.

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

19 responses to “Would You Rather Be Right, or Kind?

  • Charles Yallowitz

    The ‘fun’ of grammar Nazis. I have a few friends that picked on me for typos because I wouldn’t ‘edit’ my Facebook posts or when I was chatting with them. My argument was always ‘Did you understand what I meant? Great. I’m not being graded on this.’ This kind of stuff always seems to take away from the actual conversation of the post. I’ve seen people ask for advice and one typo turns the comment section into a grammar war with the initial question never being answered. I will admit to throwing fuel on the fire by purposely writing terribly. Example: ‘Eye sea you’re point.’

    I’ve seen the Goodreads reviews too. Rather disturbing, but I don’t think one can avoid them. Every species has assholes and, sadly, the human race gave their assholes the ability to speak publicly to the world.

  • wendyalowden

    I’d rather be kind….period…and good for you. When someone says “good” and they’re not, I ask what’s up, I don’t walk away, adding to their confusion and distress. I don’t correct grammar on facebook unless that is the topic of the post…although I LOVE the idea of post it notes for signes….might use that one!

  • Steven

    Good thoughts. I try, not always successfully, to deal with “picky points” (like grammar and spelling) privately. Things like that don’t need to be shared with the whole world; they are just for the future benefit of the individual.

    • Kate Sparkes

      Exactly. That approach is clearly for the benefit of the person you’re dealing with, not to make yourself look smarter than them. I doubt people always appreciate even private correction (I speak as someone with much experience resenting criticism that I asked for 🙂 ), but you’re helping, not trying to prove that you’re a better or more intelligent person than them. I think it’s a far better approach than correcting in public.

  • L. Marie

    Kate, I didn’t see that Grammarly post, but I totally get what you mean here. I don’t read a lot of reviews or rants from people who simply want to make someone else feel small. There is a way to correct someone without putting that person down. But many times, people put down others just to build themselves up. In the long run, that will only take you so far.

    • Kate Sparkes

      It will make you a legend in your own mind (and perhaps with a small group of like-minded friends), but I think that’s about it. Well, unless you’re doing it professionally on a celebrity gossip site.

  • Green Embers

    Okay so this made me laugh, “I don’t ever want to be one of those small-minded jerks who reads someone’s tweet about their dog dying and corrects the message’s grammar instead of offering sympathy.” I think that sums it up perfectly.

    One of my favorite quotes is the Douglas Adams, “I would rather be happy than right.” So yeah definitely want to be on the kind side of things. I agree though, doesn’t mean we should never be critical we just need to be tactful about it.

  • mysticcooking

    Great mind-set! I have to admit, I’m one of those people who cringe at the misuse of your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s, etc…I hope I’m not a jerk about it, though. Maybe I am. I’ll try to keep this post in mind the next time I’m feeling superior about my grammar skills.

    • Kate Sparkes

      I actually enjoy feeling superior sometimes. It’s horrible. I try to remember, though, that the only reason I get to feel that way is that I was born with a mind that absorbs language easily and a love for reading, and I was given educational opportunities that not everyone has had. I can’t really take credit for any of those things, so I guess I have no right to make anyone feel inferior for not having them.

      It’s hard, though. Being snarky or unkind is easier, and often more fun. We’ll see how it goes…

  • Elizabeth Collins

    I’ve never read a comments section on anything without an abundance of horrible nasty comments. Some people will find any reason, even if they have to twist it, to be a jerk. It’s so sad. I try not to even read comments anymore, everytime I do I just leave feeling depressed or frustrated.

  • Jae

    I’d definitely rather be kind. Besides, with autocorrect wreaking its havoc these days, I try to give everyone a pass. It happens to me more often that I’d like. But it is quite astounding how poorly a lot of folks grasp use of the English language. But like you said, some of us have a brain wired to understand language better than others. And those people have a brain to understand things I certainly couldn’t get.

    When it comes to writing, I’m a lot more honest, at least I expect they would want their story to be as error-free as possible since most of us are seeking to publish these things in one way or another. But like you also said, I think you can be honest without being hurtful. There’s a big difference between saying, “Hey, Moron, it’s their not they’re” and “I think you want their here, because it’s possessive.”

    Besides, I really believe in karma. So if you’re sending out self-righteous, crabby jibes, that negative energy will be returned to you in full, if not multiplied. I’d rather be sending out positive vibes.

    Great post. And totally made sense. 🙂

  • Amira K.

    I totally agree! I am often a grammar nazi, but I keep it all in my head. Rarely, if ever, do I correct someone – or judge them – for their mistakes, and though I’m definitely keeping a running editorial commentary in my head, I would never hold it against an individual or use it as an excuse to devalue his or her ideas!

  • Alana Terry

    This made so much sense. It’s a shame not more writerly types are willing to be as gracious as you are. I’m glad you told us all your thoughts, though. It’s such a better way to look at things!

  • melissajanda

    I’m guilty of # 4, too. I’ve never seen or heard anyone use it correctly, so the post was enlightening. I’m also guilty of #24. I think both phrases are widely misused. While I notice grammar errors in blog posts, I would never point them out because I know I’ve been guilty of making them myself. In fact, I received a response this morning to a recent comment I made and noticed that my original comment had a grammatical error in it. I had started to type a response and then changed the wording. We’re human, it happens (plus I wrote it around 3:30 this morning). We type a post or quick comment and don’t realize the error until later, if at all. The mind often reads the word as it should be because we wrote it and know what it should say. It’s like we have a built in auto-correct. Fantastic post, Kate.

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