To those who’ve been shamed, let me be the one to say…

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

So he was told.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me yet again as we were talking: about the cruelty of  words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken. When hastily proffered. When handed over without any thought or consideration to the receiver.

And how excruciating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will: to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less: the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

Those words- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he’ll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She’ll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory. In her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She’s trouble- or so she thinks; and so she’ll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It’s how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.  It’s pivotal.

This piece of writing I’ve composed: it is not a reprimand to students- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate: to watch our collective tongues. Carefully. To form our opinions with awareness to those around us. To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully. With dignity. In honor of the life that stands before us.  For all life is worth that at the very least. Is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent. The parents, family and friends. A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer.  And buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening. Believing what we say. Taking it to heart.  Living up to it, those words.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

To that one who has had these words flung in your direction, let me be one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman’s opinion. You are more than one person’s point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don’t have to live down, stoop low to anyone’s minimal expectations of who they think you’ve been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It’s in you.
You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky’s the limit. And you’re full of potential and possibility.

You’re amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.

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The joy of kindness…

My Jumping Jellybean settled in for the evening inside her bedroom, I lie down on the double bed that serves as center piece, for evening stories and prayers.  Tonight’s Bible verse is this: “…always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else (I Thess. 5:18b).”  That pretty much sums it up.  At all costs, we are to be kind…to everyone.  So, I ask Littlest One if anyone had been kind to her today.  She thought about it for a moment, and then she said, “You were kind when you gave me popcorn.”

Ah, the popcorn.  She has a habit lately of not eating her supper meal.  I have tried packaging it, and re-offering it to her when she is hungry, but what was left tonight on her plate was a pile of peas.  Not sure where the rest went because usually there is a three-course meal left over by the time supper comes to an end. Tonight, all I noticed was the peas.  She knows the rules: “no finish supper, no eat snacks.”  This stings a little more on Friday nights when movies are accompanied by treats.  When everyone sat down to watch The Muppets, and I came out with steaming bowls of salty, butter-infused popcorn, her mouth was watering.  I passed a bowl to her two older sisters, and then I brought a third over to her.  She looked at me with surprise.  “But I never finished supper!” she said, the question hanging over us both like a small rain cloud.

And isn’t that what grace is all about? Getting what we don’t deserve?   She got it tonight- grace, in a dish served up as a bowl of popcorn.  Grace was served, both literally and physically.  I can offer it to her because it has been offered to me in packages that come in as many different shapes and sizes as there are hues in a picturesque landscape.  I receive that which I give to her.

Grace.

So, when she gave this as an example of kindness at bedtime, it made me ask this question to bring home the message of my albeit small, goodwill gesture toward her:

“So, what did you do to show kindness today?”  She thought for a moment, as if searching her soul.  Silence.  Until she came up with this, her shoulders shrugged non-chalently: “I guess I will try to do it tomorrow.”

Honesty counts for something, in my books.

A little kindness goes a long way.  Showing grace in spite of how we feel, in spite of the day we are having, and in spite of how others are treating us, that is the essence of kindness.  Our kindness can ignite a spark of kindness in another person.  The flame will catch on, it will burn bright and long.   A blaze of kindness can be the result of one word or phrase.  A movement of kindness can be the launch pad for change.  Change, done in positive ways, can make this world a better place.

It only takes a little effort for kindness to weave its magic.  That is the beauty of a word fitly spoken.

So often, kindness goes by the wayside in our house.  It is easier to speak (shout?) words in haste, without thought to the receiver, than it is to take the extra moment or two, re-phrase our words into kindly offered gestures of love, gratitude and goodwill.  I love it when a child says thank-you: those words are a bequest I personally elevate to the highest of offerings.  I love it more when I see my own children say those simple words, ‘thank you,’ without my prompting.  I count memories of those times when gratitude was the first response among many other shining moments of parenthood.  These moments of appreciation are times that light the path for weary parent travellers.

I am training my kindergarten students to offer up thanks for even little tokens of kindness, and they present these words often without prior encouragement from me.  My husband shared with me this story: recently, at a large-scale event he and another teacher had organized on behalf of the students in their classes, one boy came up to him after the occasion had ended, and said, “Thank- you Mr. Gard for organizing this event for us.  It was a lot of fun.”  Such a brief little string of words, and yet so powerful.  There is power in those two little words: thank you.  Power to shape another’s day, power to change the course of someone’s path, power to shift moods, salvage relationships, mend broken pieces of our lives.  Power for change.

I sometimes miss the thoughtfulness, the kind-heartedness, the consideration that comes across my path. I am too often looking for the negative, the selfishness, the thoughtlessness.  Those moments when kindness has not been shown, and I have been offended.  However, when I truly allow myself to see others the way God sees people, I realize that we are all, or we CAN be, beautiful examples of grace in action.  Each and every day, I am the receiver of kindly gestures.  A word of appreciation, a smile, an encouraging note, a question asked expectant for an unrushed answer, a hug, a kiss, a glance, a wink.  All are, in their big and small ways, gestures of kindness.  And they are simple ways to start a movement towards change.  Even very small changes.

Because for great things to happen, we always have to start with the smallest of actions.  Every marathon runner has to take their first step, every successful vocalist must sing their first note, and every famous orator was urged to speak their first word.

So must we, take small steps toward change.  We must show kindness TO EVERYONE so as to make this world a better place.

And that change in our attitude and behavior starts with kindness.