A while back I had an unexpected visit from a neighbor’s son who is a 20 year old who has been struggling with addiction, lack of motivation and follow through. He is a kind young man, very creative, but a bit lost on his path. As we chatted I asked a few questions. I believe it important to engage one another. I asked him the standard “So, how you doing?” and “What do you see for yourself in the future?” His answers surprised and saddened me all at the same time.
He made mention that he had been working with his dad in construction but that this wasn’t his vision for his life. His dream was to go to school to learn to play music. When I asked what was stopping him I was taken aback by his reply…”My dad says I’m too stupid and my mom says I never finish anything so why even start.”
I felt saddened that a child would be told this by his own parents because I can remember hearing similar words in my youth. My instinct was to reply with more questions. “Why do you think your mom feels that way?” “What is it like to hear that from your dad?” His answers were interesting to me. He said, “My mom feels that way because of my history and my dad – well he’s just my dad.”
We talked a bit more about this and the last thing I said to him was, “Understand that your mom’s point of reference is based on history BUT remember you today are NOT your past. You are a very talented/creative young man – smart as a whip – so none of those reasons work for why you aren’t going for it. How determined are you? How motivated are you? Not to prove them wrong but to show them how much you are willing to grow?” His face light up!
This got me to thinking about what words I’ve spoken to my own kids that may have been harmful? Words have so much power and they can cut deeply and take years to heal. I believe we sometimes use words harshly to make us feel bigger or more important, and in a twisted way, to validate ourselves when we are confronted with our insecurities.
When my kids were younger as well as when I worked at the high school, I would often speak to kids regarding words and the power they have. One of the analogies I would use is this:
You have this piece of wood; it’s newly cut, fresh and clean, beautiful really – that would be the person you are speaking too. Then come your words, the kind affirming words, they keep the wood beautifully unharmed, leaving the wood open to sharing more. But, when the words are harmful, hurtful, unkind or degrading they then become like nails in that wood. The nails pierce holes into the wood leaving it ever changed. If you take the nails out of the wood there will be holes.You can add putty and sand it until it is smooth again (that would be the apology) however the wood is still ever changed. Even though the holes have been filled the damage to the wood is still there, it’s just covered up.
I share all of this with one thing in mind – to educate! At some point in our lives we have allowed our words to lash out, to hurt – whether intentional or not – the damage is the same. My offering to you is this, don’t beat yourself up for speaking unkind words; instead, keep this analogy in your memory as you prepare to speak. THINK … what effect will your words have, what is your intent, and are you encouraging or hammering nails?
Remember: No amount of apology can ever take back what is said in anger, hate, or retaliation. Choose words wisely – your loved ones are listening.