With all the weird weather going on, Erik is feeling under the weather himself. So we're reprinting a column from 2005 while he curses the winter from his couch. With a juice box.
Quick, check the mirror. You've got something in your teeth.
How many people would tell you that? Not many. You could be eating lunch with a friend and have a huge chunk of your entree stuck between your front teeth, and your so-called friend will just stare at you. You think you're wildly interesting, because she's making great eye contact and hangs on your every word. But in reality, you're going to spend the entire day with a huge piece of green spinach plastered to your front tooth, making you look like Mike Tyson's prom date. And your friend will never tell you.
You can tell who your true friends are, because they're the ones who tell you if you've got a booger hanging from your nose; they want to save you from complete embarrassment later on.
But most people I know say they never point out dangling boogers or tooth spinach because they don't want to embarrass the other person. That's understandable. You wouldn't want to have your carefully crafted persona shattered by being told you have a huge chunk of barbecued rib dangling from the corner of your mouth.
However, these non-tellers never think about the fact that you won't discover your bodily faux pas for three hours when you finally get to a bathroom mirror.
Now how embarrassed are you? Not only did you sit through lunch with your friend, but you had a department meeting, and gave a presentation to your boss, with that booger stalactite hanging from your nostril.
We're not really trying to spare the other person's feelings. We're just embarrassed ourselves. We don't want to be the one to point at the other person, say "Err. . . you've got a. . ." and then wipe our hand under our nose.
However, we feel absolutely no compunction about laughing about it with friends later: "I mean, it was just HANGING there , flapping in and out with every breath! I started to worry it was going to fly into my soup!"
We need to get over ourselves. Life is not always about us (it's about me, actually, but that's a different column), so we shouldn't worry about the shame of saying "You've got a. . . uhh. . ." We're actually doing the other person a favor — the same favor we would want them to do for us.
It's the Golden Nugget Rule: Point out others' boogers as you would have them point out boogers unto you.
Ultimately, the kind of person you are comes down to that one simple question: are you a forthright straight shooter who tells people what they need to hear? Or are you a shy, timid wallflower who would rather be swarmed over by fire ants then tell your best friend of 25 years that their barn door is open?
I would hope you're the former, and that you'll spare a friend total public humiliation and remind her to thoroughly wipe her nose before she leaves the restaurant.
Of course, all of the rules fly out the window when it comes to smells and odors. Even communication and relationship experts agree that telling someone they smell would be the most awkward, uncomfortable thing we could ever do. It's less awkward to tell your best friend you're having an affair with his wife as you carry her out the door for a romantic weekend.
Our smells are one of the most basic things about us — it's our very essence and the way our prehistoric ancestors used to identify each other way back in the 1940s. Even in some cultures today, a person's odor is considered part of who they are, as distinctive as their face and their personality. To experience a person's odor is to experience the person.
Because odors are so primal, people never want to point out that someone else is emitting an unpleasant one. In most cases, it's considered a grave insult. The only exception is when a group of Guys get together and someone shouts the inevitable, "Dude, that was gross! What died inside you?!" immediately after one of them rips one. Then, not only are odors pointed out, they're usually laughed at and celebrated.
So, don't be a fair weather friend. Look out for your friend, co-worker, or new acquaintance and help them save face in what could be an awkward social situation. Stand up, point dramatically at the other person, and declare proudly: "I am your friend, and you've got a large booger hanging from your nose!"
They'll thank you for it.
Photo credit: AWiseAcre (Flickr, Creative Commons)
The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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