Building Up

From April 24, 2014

After an arduous morning out, that consisted mainly of me saying, “No Jude. Please stop, Jude. Are you serious right now?” I started the drive home feeling drained. I called my husband to vent about our three year old, but as I was doing so, I caught a glimpse of a round little face in the rearview mirror, looking deflated and embarrassed. My heart split in two. I hate it when people talk ill of their children while they are in earshot, and here I was, doing just that.  I stopped in the middle of my sentence, hesitated, trying to unearth a praise I could share about our son, instead of ridicule. It was a reach, but my phone call changed direction as I said, “despite that stuff, I wanted to call and tell you that Jude has been especially kind to his brother this morning. It made me smile when I saw him give Eliam a ‘just because’ hug.” I snuck a second glance in the mirror, and this time I saw a little boy who held his head high and a half-smile filled his eyes.  I think there is a time for correction, but I do not ever want my children to hear me speaking negatively of them.

“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Since that day, I have been thinking a lot about the power of our words and how they affect others. I think as a general rule, that we will live up to what we are told we are. This verse from Ephesians has been on my mind for several weeks. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Eph 4:29

What would happen if we all strived to find the good in other people, and then proclaimed that good? Perhaps we might live up to the compliments. Last year I received a thank you card that meant so much to me. I have no idea what it was thanking me for, but I do remember that at the end it said, “and thank you for being a community leader.” I read that sentence 17 times, trying to figure out if that card was meant for somebody else. You see, I had never considered myself a community leader, but after I received that card, I aspired to be one. I wanted to live up to the bit of good that someone had seen in me.

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, I was in the produce section at Trader Joe’s, watching a father with his toddler son, while simultaneously, distractedly squeezing mangoes. “See if you can find some shredded carrots. Do you know what ‘shredded’ means?” the man asked his bouncy son. I made eye contact with that dad, and loud enough for others to hear, I said, “You are a good dad.” You know as well as I do, he may have been a crap dad. I have no idea. But what I saw of him in that moment was that he was very engaged with his boy, and excited to see him learn new things. This warranted my compliment, and just like the note I received about being a community leader, I have a feeling that man went away aspiring to live up to the compliment, and be the best dad he could be.

I want to train myself to see the good in people, and to declare it as I see fit. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to give a compliment, but wouldn’t it be worth the moment of discomfort if we could help another to be the best version of him/herself?

I want to go back to children before I conclude. So much of how we view ourselves as adults is shaped when we are children. Think about the things that you remember others saying about you when you were a kid- both the good and the bad. How have those things shaped your confidence? Your view of the world? Your view of others? It is so important to speak well of our children. If you want to vent, wait until they are sleeping, or you’re at coffee with a friend. Of course there is a time for correction. Sometimes my husband and I sit down with Jude and we talk about his negative behavior and why it’s not acceptable. Matt is extremely good at finding the good in people though, and always ends our talk with something like, “I am really proud of the boy you are, and I love your kind heart.” Kids, just like adults, need to hear positive affirmation often, especially from their parents. When I was a shy, awkward fifth grader, my teacher and my parents used to tell me that I was very good at spelling. (I know you are thinking, “man, she’s good at spelling? What a cool person.” Right.) I was terrified to spell words in front of my own class, but after my teacher kept encouraging me, I won the school spelling bee and went on to the city bee. My cool points just keep climbing. Though I was the shyest kid in my entire school, I was willing to explore my talent (if you can call it that) because I was being encouraged to do so.

Let’s have mercy for other people’s flaws. Don’t we expect the same for us?  Rather than seeing all of the traits that irritate you, concentrate on the aspects that give people around you value. Our culture is so hesitant to give compliments, but so eager to point out weaknesses.  What if each of us aimed to enhance one other person’s strengths everyday? We have the ability to make a difference in the lives around us, simply by building them up with our words, and finding good in them—a good that they, perhaps, have never seen.

With that, my challenge to you is to look for a way you can build someone up today, and then do it. All it will take is one sentence.

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