Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Power of WORDS

I can remember it like it was yesterday.  One of the most meaningful and influential memories of my childhood. A moment in my life that not only changed the way I saw myself at the time but that shaped who I would become as an adult.  It was fifth grade.  My teacher was Mrs. Lopez.  One day she asked all of us to take out a blank sheet of paper.  On the top of our papers we were asked to write our names.  Then she explained that we were going to be passing the papers around and writing down one positive word that described the person's name at the top of the paper.  We would pass the papers until ours came back to us.  Before starting the activity, Mrs. Lopez helped us brainstorm a list of words that we might want to draw from.  We all took turns raising our hands and coming up with words that a fifth grader would like to be seen as:


Normal words.  Bland.  Nothing special in the big world of words but they were a big deal to us.  I can still remember how excited I was to see what my classmates thought of me.  I knew we weren't allowed to write anything negative so all the words on my paper would be good words. Words some of us needed to hear.  I wasn't alone in my excitement and anticipation.  With each pass of the papers, there was an exchange of whispers about who had what paper even though the activity was supposed to be done in silence.

With each new paper I got, I tried hard to come up with the perfect word for that person.  The more POSITIVES I gave out, the better I felt about ME.  It was an activity that created so much happiness and good feelings.  With each "Pretty" or "Beautiful" I wrote down, I wished for someone to write the same about me.  The other words mattered too  but I heard many of them often enough.  Smart.  Funny.  Creative.  I knew I'd get plenty of these words.  Not so much with Pretty.  I didn't think of myself as Pretty.  Certainly not Beautiful.  And this probably affected how I felt about myself on the inside too.  Everyone needs someone in their life that tells them that they are beautiful (certainly not referring to only physical beauty).  It surely meant a lot to me in my awkward fifth grade world.

Once the papers were almost around, our teacher collected them early.  WHAT?!  I didn't even get to see my paper.  The class broke out into a string of sighs.  Our disappointment palpable.  We were incredibly eager to know what our papers said.  Mrs. Lopez assured us that we would see them soon.

It wasn't more than a day before we saw them.  There they were.  All lined up outside our classroom wall.  Each kid had a piece of tagboard with their school picture on the middle of it.  Around the picture, Mrs. Lopez had written down all of the words that described us.

It was a struggle to get close enough to the bulletin board to see our words but everyone happily waited their turn while trying to sneak a peak at THEIR SPECIAL WORDS.  Then I saw mine.  So many wonderful things.
Even though the words were probably similar for each person, they were still OURS.  These were words that described us! Words that said what our peers thought of us.  And then I saw them....


To this day, I know in my heart that that was one of the first moments in my life where I truly felt beautiful. And smart and strong and all of the other words I read on that paper.  I'm sure my mom and family told me that they thought I was wonderful and beautiful, etc.   Sure.  That's what family is supposed to think. But to hear that from my peers?  From my teacher?  From people that aren't my family but people I see every day?   This felt special.  And it stayed with me for ALWAYS.  It was a moment that changed me forever in realizing the POWER of WORDS.

For every year of the eight years that I taught before staying home with my kids, I always did this activity.  And every year I recognized the same excitement and wide-eyed anticipation in my students that I had when I did this activity.  I knew that there were some student that would need this more than others, but without a doubt, I believed every. single. student would be given a gift when they received "Their Words".  And yes, I took the papers early and wrote them down on a special piece of paper.  I'd be lying if I said that I didn't add a word or two on my own but they never had to know that.  I remembered how important it was for me to see
certain words.
And how it made my heart fly when I did see those words.  Who knows if my teacher wrote down some of the words on her own or if they were all from my classmates.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that it changed the way I saw myself.
I began to blossom in a way I had never done before. I saw myself differently.  I had a new sense of confidence.

Words continue to hold such power in my life.  Really, words are powerful in all of our lives.  The words we think.  The words we write and speak.  They hold power.  I was reminded of this again today as I found myself in GRUMPY MOM MODE where I was muttering under my breath and thinking to myself what a little brat my son was being.  There was a storm of words running through my head:
bad choices

Then I caught myself.  Wow!  If I'm thinking all of these words about him, he's got to be FEELING these things.  And then giving me more of what I'm already labeling him to be.  So, before I went about my "To-Do"s, I stopped myself, grabbed some sticky notes and scribbled down some positive words about my sweet boy.  I instantly felt more positive about him and myself.  While I was at it, I scribbled some words about everyone else in my family and then made a sticky note for myself.  This was just a sloppy jotting down of words but I did go back later and add to them once I realized how many meaningful words I could think about each of my kids and my husband.  Perhaps I'll write them down for them to have in their rooms or do something else with them.  In the meantime, they are in the kitchen for me to see.

Notes...words...power messages...having these things up where I can see them is part of having more of them! These are just a few of the notes I have up in a visible place. Sometimes I find myself only pointing out the negative flaws in my kids (and myself)...the things I'd like them to work on. But I'm trying to be more intentional by focusing on, acknowledging and celebrating more of the character traits that ARE WORKING and WONDERFUL (in myself and others).

Words truly do hold power.
The words we tell ourselves about US.
The words we communicate to others.  They matter.
The words we think about life, what we are doing, who we are, what life has in store, our goals, the people around us.
So Powerful.

I whole heartedly believe that if we choose to be more conscious of and intentional with the WORDS we use with ourselves and others, we have the power to make amazing things happen
So. Much.  More.


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  1. Love this post! It struck such a chord in me. Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are the negative things that I heard said about me and they're still things that I repeat to myself to this day. Words have such incredible power and we all need to hear positives said about ourselves. To hear them at such an impressionable age can make such a difference in how you view yourself for years to come.

    1. Thanks Char. Negative words said to me as a child...yes, these are hard to shake!

  2. Adore this post. As the summer drags on, (one week left for my kids until school begins) I found myself in grumpy mom mode too often. There is no down time for Moms in the summer! Then I noticed my kids getting grumpy and it hit me that my exhaustion was wearing off on them. The "Manifest your Children's Destiny" is a fantastic reminder to always exhibit the characteristics you want your children to learn. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Kristen. No joke...Summer can be so HARD as a mom...definitely not a lot of down time. It can be so hard at the end....grumpy grumpy grumpy. I have to be really conscious of my attitude at the end of a summer.

  3. I love this post.

    I love words. If I had a superpower I would be Word Choice Man, or Diction Man. I love finding just the right word for each situation. While people are talking to me, I'm skipping along with them, a half beat ahead, choosing the right words that I think they mean to choose. It helps me listen better, and I'm amazed at how many times I can predict the words they are going to say next.

    But, I'm ashamed to say that all too often I let my words fly intending to wound. And my goodness can they be effective.

    Thank you for a wonderful reminder about the inherent power words hold.

    And I'm totally doing the sticky note thing. I'm going to stick them to my children's headboards.

    1. Thanks Robert. Yes, headboards...good idea! You're not alone in the way you use words sometimes. WE've all been there.

  4. So true! I love when you talk about Samuel. It is so easy to think and sometimes shamefully say when stress or tiredness creeps in. But when I sit here and think about how much their faces light up when I say something positive or believe that they can handle something it makes me stop in my tracks!! It can completely change their moods. You can physically see them perk up and start to thrive on what came out of my mouth. I want to be this for them way more often than once in a good mommy moment while. Time to work on my words.

    1. Thanks T! Gosh, my little guy can be such a handful! He's given me lots and lots of good motherhood reflections though. Such spirit! It will really work in his favor even does today even though it is stressful at times. Yes, they do perk up so much when we speak positives to them.

  5. what a great school activity! We play the nice game. We have to go around and take turns saying one nice thing about each other. My kids love that game and make their cousins play with us sometimes when they are over.

    1. Thanks Christy! This sounds like a great game! WE do that with class meetings too. Or used to.

  6. My view of words changed when I saw Mya Angelou talk about them. She quoted the Bible, "In the beginning was the Word" actually making them things... loved your post. :)

  7. Stealing this activity for my class! Thanks! :)

  8. Awesome post! I am going to do this with my kids! I was thinking just the other day of what a tough job we have as parents. We are the ones that have to mold our children to be their absolute best.

  9. Too true, words are very powerful & those said to a child should be chosen carefully. I also feel too many women internalize too many negative words. Positive words can change thought patterns & attitudes!

  10. Thanks for sharing, nice post!
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