What We Say and Do Matters

Ink and brush on mixed media paper – Words: William Lyon Phelps

People every where, no matter their age, shape or size, all need to be encouraged. Not just platitudes like ‘nice job’ or ‘you did good’, or the ever popular, ‘keep doing what you’re doing’. When our words are specific, personal and private they have the ability to change a life.

I taught high school for a year and became the default faculty person for the year book. It was a hazardous duty and not much fun. The kids who took yearbook class really just wanted to phone in for a grade. They were surprised when I actually made them work. One kid in particular was rather a loud nuisance who took great pride at humiliating people. He had a troubled past and most of the faculty warned me about him before school even began.

I spent my first six weeks fending off his put downs and jabs by dishing it right back at him. He wasn’t used to that. I used kindness and self deprecating humor to win him over. Eventually we developed an ebb and flow kind of relationship. At the end of the school year I had the chance to write a note to each student in my class in their yearbook. I did calligraphy (of course) and made each message personal to that student. This kid’s message was words of encouragement, letting him know that he was better than how he treated himself or others AND could do anything he chose…so choose wisely. I gave the class their yearbooks and watched them all read their individual messages. At the end of the week he came up to me and thanked me, gave me a hug and said no one ever told him that. He was a senior in high school and no one had ever told him that he had potential.

That was more than thirty years ago and I still remember the look on his face. His Mother came up to me at graduation and thanked me for being tough on him. She said he talked about my class all the time. So let me say it again. No matter how tormented, troubled, thankless or thoughtless someone treats us when we have the opportunity to spread kindness and encouragement it truly has an impact. Make it real, personal, private and true. Platitudes and fake phrases mean nothing. By taking the time to think before we speak, to then speak truth and words to help people grow, it does indeed change lives.

I do not know what happened to that young man, however I know I was changed by our interactions. Sometimes being the vessel for encouraging others brings the message home that what we say and do matters.

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