"If you can't say something nice, then say nothing at all." Nooooooo, no, no, no, no! This is the worst advice in the world. To not speak up against some things is a major crime and at the top of the list is bad service, like clerks/waiters/nurses standing around discussing personal lives instead of taking care of the business at hand. Overhearing the nurses' social klatch at their desk while waiting for something only a nurse can do is infuriating. Sullen waiters and flirty clerks who would rather chat with their coworkers are surely business liabilities. But I will not be the one who speaks, though. My mother taught me well. I might desperately need a bed pan, and no one wants to know what angry waiters do to the food before it arrives at the table.
"Beauty is only skin deep," my mother said. She forgot to add, "But ugly is to the bone!" If she had just given me the entire truth on this one, I think we would have found common ground.
"It is always best to tell the truth." On the surface, this seems to be foolproof advice. Most everyone agrees that truth is always the best policy, until faced with one of those delicate social dilemmas. I would never tell a radiant new mother that her child is the ugliest little baby I have ever laid eyes on. In fact, I hope the expression of surprise and revulsion does not show in my face. Merely offering congratulations is a time honored, neutral social response, and for good reason. Everyone needs a gracious way out of a tight spot. The need has always been there and always will be there.
Any time I stray into those subjective areas of beauty, good taste, or appropriate manners, telling the truth as I see it is not the best idea. The internet is full of "Walmart Weddings" photos. In such a case, if I cannot say anything good, then I say nothing at all. Mom was not wrong all the time.