Words – Daisies or Bruises?

Encourage    As an instructor at a small community college, I am privileged to teach a wide range of ages, starting from around fifteen years old to those who are in their fifties. I may have even had one in her sixties, but being a woman, I know better than to ask.

Recently, a few younger students (old enough to know better, too young to quit) were having difficulty keeping quiet during my lecture about pronoun-antecedent agreement. Who would have guessed? In fact, this was not the first time that they had had this trouble, and one in particular seemed to be the instigator. After a couple of other students complained about the distraction, I needed to take action.

I ended up separating the group, scattering them throughout the empty seats in the class, and while the momentary embarrassment of being singled out did deter them that day, as soon as I had another boring lecture, their inability to sit still would come to the fore.

The main instigator was a gifted writer, and it happened that as I was grading the latest assignment, I told him so through a sincere, written comment praising his efforts. That comment changed his behavior, and from that time on, he focused and stayed quiet when he needed to. Because he maintained control, so did the others.

The game-changer here was my positive words of encouragement, sincerely given at the appropriate time. Those words did more to change the attention-dynamic in my classroom than anything else, more than my semi-punitive actions of moving the disruptive students to different seats.

This idea of encouragement vs. punishment is nothing new, but my experience in the classroom emphasizes that love and encouragement do far more to change behavior than punishment ever could.

This is a lesson that is worth repeating, not just for teachers and parents, but for churches, Christians, non-Christians, everyone, everywhere. Words can be our bouquet of flowers to the world, or words can be more bruises inflicted upon it. I love the poem called “Words” by Anne Sexton, and its first stanza speaks to our ability to create good in the world through our choice of words:

Be careful of words,

even the miraculous ones.

For the miraculous we do our best,

sometimes they swarm like insects

and leave not a sting but a kiss.

They can be as good as fingers.

They can be as trusty as the rock

you stick your bottom on.

But they can be both daisies and bruises.

You have a choice today: you can give life, encouragement, even daisies, by what you say; or you can hurt, bruise, and damage others with your words. As I learned in my classroom, encouragement and acknowledgement of another’s inherent worth and gifts promotes a person to a greater realization of the best self, the one God intended him or her to be. My prayer for you today, dear reader, is that your words may be beautiful, sincere, and trustworthy, reflecting the kindness and goodness of our loving Father and encouraging others to recognize their inherent value and worthiness bestowed on them by God.  Amen.

~by Nan Kuhlman

photo courtesy of Can Stock

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