I was listening to actor/dancer/writer Dick Van Dyke being interviewed on a show on NPR the other day. The interviewer asked him what, at the ripe old age of 90+, was his secret for happiness. He said that as he went through life, he tried his best to be non-toxic. He described the women he had been fortunate enough to be married to and the actors he had been fortunate enough to work with like Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews, and even his parents as having been least toxic, and probably most life-supporting people he knew. He learned from them: the best way to be happy in life is to just be authentic, real, and yes, nice.
As I listened to this I of course began to think about my life. I have been doing that a lot lately as I am writing my memoirs. I began to wonder about the times when I probably should have been wearing a warning label. I know there are times over the years when I was a toxic person. I know I hurt some folks along the way. Usually it was because I was trying to be nice, and in doing so, I wasn't authentic. I wasn't honest with my feelings. When those feelings came out, they were painful and probably caused some harm. And, in an effort to justify myself, I think I probably was exposed to toxicity about as much as (or more) than I gave. That of course is beside the point.
Dick Van Dyke appears to be a very nice man. He is successful and has had a long, successful career during which he has brought a lot of happiness to millions. The same can be said about Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews and many other public figures. But both Dick and Mary struggled with alcoholism. Both overcame it, though, and both shared their experiences with the public. Any toxicity there was meliorated by their subsequent authenticity. And I am surprised to learn Julie Andrews also wrestled with alcoholism and other demons. I guess it just part of the human condition. The bottom line is, however, not that we fall from grace, but how we come back.
It seems to me that telling your story is very important. How you tell it, says a lot about you. Christina Crawford wrote and scathing, toxic, tale about her mother, Joan. It would be hard for me to say who was more toxic in that story. I think Christina has made amends, but I can't say that for certain. In the end, what one shares of one's story and how one shares it says more about the storyteller than about the characters involved. Again, it may need a warning label.
My point is that it is most important to first do no harm. I assume it is part of the Hippocratic Oath for a reason. There's a quote oft attributed to the Buddha or to Arabic proverbs, but its source is uncertain. It goes: Before you speak, think: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Whether the Buddha said it or it's just a metaphysical imaginative truism, it really does make sense to ask yourself those questions before you speak. THINK. I hope I do these days. Especially in my memoirs, if is not true, not helpful, not kind, not necessary, not kind, you probably won't be reading it. At least not without a warning label.