Advice from Mr. Rogers
Words that Nourish
Sometimes a kind word or gesture can make a little difference in a life. I remember some of those moments in my past when someone's little kindness didn't change my life in a dramatic way but affected me in a positive way.
Fred Rogers once said,
"Imagine what our real neighbors would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person. There have been so many stories about the lack of courtesy, the impatience of today's world, road rage and even restaurant rage. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”
I loved my fourth grade teacher. She was young and pretty and dynamic and fun. One day she talked to me privately. She told me I was very smart. In the words of Mr. Rogers, her words nourished me. To have attracted her attention and won this recognition inspired and motivated me. I wanted to live up to my teacher's expectations. I wanted to demonstrate that her words were warranted. I would have worked to excel in school whether or not I had that exchange with the teacher, but I have always been grateful for her encouragement.
Another teacher told my mother I would write a book someday. I have always wanted to and never have, but the teacher's prediction has always meant a lot to me. I appreciate the teacher recognizing and encouraging my love of writing. As an adult, a friend occasionally tells me I should write a book or appreciates something I have written. Each time that happens, I feel nourished.The teen years can be an insecure time, and it sometimes was for me. I remember one evening being at a church where I was to participate in an event. A little girl I didn't know stopped and looked at me and exclaimed, "You're beautiful!" "You're beautiful, too!" I said in return, truly meaning it. I can't remember what the little girl looked like, but I remember her beauty, the beauty of her personality. Of course, I had received words of kindness before, but the enthusiasm and sincerity of this spontaneous assertion from someone I didn't know made it stand out. A little girl's simple, heartfelt compliment made me feel more beautiful that night.
I remember a kind man from my church congregation during my teen years. He was the father of a large family. Week after week, whenever we crossed paths, he would ask me how I was doing and genuinely cared about the answer. He would always listen as I responded with a sentence or two. Then he would give me some encouragement. I can't remember many of the words he said, but I remember the sincerity with with he said them and way the kind words made me feel.
Words that Stifle Potential
I could as easily offer up examples of times when I have experienced or observed an unkind word that has wounded, of course. How common are such times when words are used to hurt? How often have people who might have been strengthened been damaged by words that left little scars or quite significant scars forever? Happily, some have overcome such words. Some have even been more determined in the face of discouragement. CBS recounts that Walt Disney was told in his childhood that he had no talent and was fired from a job in his early twenties for not being creative enough. The Beatles were rejected at their first audition. Stephen King, while not a writer in a genre I appreciate, threw the manuscript for "Carrie" away after thirty rejections. Oprah Winfrey's first boss told her that she was too emotional and "not right" for television. After Sidney Poitier's first audition, a casting director said he was wasting time and suggested he find work as a dishwasher. Thomas Edison's teacher told him he was "too stupid to learn anything." Elvis Presley's manager told him, "You ain't goin' nowhere, son, You ought to go back to drivin' a truck." Young Albert Einstein was thought to be slow. Fred Astaire failed to impress at his first audition. His evaluation read. "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." Each of these talented individuals rose to greatness in their fields, proving assessments of their potential wrong. These stories inspire us. But I wonder how many Disneys and Astaires never reached their potential and were never known to the world for their gifts because of some careless or dismissive words. How many Poiters or Oprahs believed an unkind assertion? Not all with talents can achieve the most ambitious dreams, but how many dreams have been dashed not by the limitations of an individual's abilities but by the limitation of the vision of a detractor? How many people who have blessed the world with their gifts benefited from the faith of someone who believed in them and might not have without that faith shown in them?
The Power of a Compliment While it seems a small thing, I have for many years observed my father going about everyday errands and activities. I have seen the way he treats those who are on the job waiting tables and working cash registers and doing other jobs. He treats them with respect, always giving them a smile, usually thanking them for their service and complimenting them on the work they do. "Thank you for coming to work today," he'll say politely. Instead of merely tipping a server in a restaurant, I have seen the way he will locate the server and give him or her the tip personally. He always has a compliment about how good the service was. He will often mention to me the name of people who work at various establishments he frequents. He will know the name of the man who runs the gas station, the receptionist at the doctor's office, or the assistant manager at an electronics store.
A 2012 study in Japan found that people who received compliments performed better than those who didn't. Professor Norihiro Sadato, of the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan said, "To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money. We've been able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise. Complimenting someone could become an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom and during rehabilitation." I have no doubt my fourth grade teacher's expectations affected my desire to do my very best work. Shea Glover, Chicago art student, made a video in which she told subjects she was filming things she found beautiful and that she would like to film them. Calling them beautiful, each smiled genuinely and truly exuded happiness and beauty. One woman with a camera demonstrated the near-universal power of a compliment, of a few kind words and found in her fellow human beings real beauty.
Making a difference
We likely never know when we have made a little difference that matters in a life. But what a positive force for good we can be if we look for the beauty in those around us and tell people when we find it. My world has been full of wonderful people who have, as those in the little examples from my youth, blessed my life. Ordinary people doing ordinary things, without a great expenditure of time or money or effort, nurtured one human being. I hope that I have been that ordinary person occasionally for someone else, for someone who needed to be nourished.