Can I Offer You a Mint? – Using Facts to Banish Embarrassment

Author: Dr. Bobby Buka

Many of the potentially embarrassing misfortunes of the body can be pinned on the antics of an impossibly large army of tiny creatures living inside of you right now. Those microorganisms that we call, “bacteria” exist in every imaginable nook from the food we eat to the doors we touch. Peel back the layers of you and you’d discover bacteria thriving in the trillions, with their madly reproducing colonies fashioning nearly five pounds of adult you.

Some bacteria play nicely, like probiotics (from the Greek meaning “for life”) and some cause continual mayhem and prompt us to declare a take-no-prisoners war, using antibiotics (from the Greek meaning “against life”) or other methods. It’s this naughty kind of bacteria that we need the chat about.

Bad Breath, Being Blunt and Bacteria

Scenario: You’re out with a close friend, heading to a holiday party where you’ll both interact with dozens of people, and then it happens — you get smacked in the face with a whiff of his horrifying breath. Tread carefully now. The courageous choice of a good friend calls for you to tell your buddy about his bad breath. The manner in which you will display such courage and friendship — that can make or break the moment.

A Blunt Response –  “Wow, that’s appalling, your breath is disgusting.”
That’s so much easier to give than to receive. It’s essentially shaming a person into a behavior change, but it offers no helpful solution and can put a lot of folks on the defensive.

A Colgate Response – The folks who have been selling toothpaste since 1873 remind us that, “odor-detecting cells in the nose eventually become accustomed to the constant flow of bad smells from the mouth.” Their approach involves offering a fresh breath fact or two as a reminder of the reality that we all go through it sometimes.

A Response That Combines Both  – “I’m noticing the treponema denticola and the porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria have invaded your oral space just a bit and are creating sulfur compounds releasing gases resulting in bad breath. Happens to the best of us. Can I offer you a mint?” Sharing the blunt truth with a degree of sensitivity, breaking the ice with some silliness and stepping up to offer a solution gets a big thumbs up. (Extra points if you can pronounce the bacteria correctly).

Bacteria – The Acne Culprit

An added degree of difficulty in conversation presents itself when seeking to address the issue of acne with a loved one. For starters, acne is a chronic skin disease that is annoying and normally quite visible. Few people need a gentle nudge to tell them they have acne. Learning the causes and facts about acne can set us up to become helpful allies with those who wrestle with it.

A Blunt Response – “Your acne is pretty bad. You should see a dermatologist.”
And the obvious award goes to…
Many folks who struggle with chronic long-term acne have already spoken with a professional. They may be in the midst of a treatment at that very moment. And you can bet it consumes a regular part of their thinking. Maybe try to avoid making assumptions about someone’s skin regimen (or lack thereof) until you know the real deal.

A No Big Deal Response – One of the big problems associated with acne has more to do with social stigma than physical ailment. You’d think a condition shared by nearly 80% of all humans at some point in their lives would not feel like it belongs in hushed conversations. Put the energy into solutions and give less credence to the idea that acne makes you less of a person. Acne makes you extremely human and humans are problem solvers.

A Response That Combines Both – “You know, I’ve seen the proprionibacteria creep up on me sometimes, and yep, it gave me acne as well. It’s not fun and most of us get it at some point. Have you tried Accutane or something similar to take down the bad bacteria and find some relief? If you ever need a referral, I know a guy.

Remember, bacteria combine forces to become strong. Adopt a similar tactic, join ranks with those needing help or graciously offering their help to you and see just how quickly we can banish embarrassment, get down to business and reckon with these microorganisms who clearly chose the wrong day to mess with us.

What has been your experience when sharing potentially embarrassing truths with others? We’d love to hear from you!