Monday, September 8, 2008

The Power in Our Words

Have you ever thought about how much power there is in what you say to others?

I have, but I was reminded by a comment on a post on Antique Mommy's blog how much others' words can inspire, sustain -- or crush -- us.

Want examples? I have a few.

Example #1: the academic advisor

When I was getting my electrical engineering degree, I went to see my academic advisor. At the time, my children were four years (Son the Older) and nine months (Son the Younger), and we had just moved into university housing for married students.

After my advisor asked me a few questions about my personal life, he told me that I needed to go home and be a "good mommy" for now. He advised me that perhaps I could pursue an engineering degree once my younger son was in kindergarten.

I was dismayed. Floored. Upset. Angry. But I pulled myself up to my full (short) height and informed him, "I have been admitted to this university. I have moved into married student housing. I believe your job is just to tell me what classes I need to take to graduate, so why don't you do that?"

Understand, I do not ever speak to someone in a position of authority over me in that tone.

He did what I asked. And I remembered his words the entire time I was in school. They spurred me on and kept me from quitting many times when it was tough. And believe me, it's tough to get an engineering degree, and much more so when you pile on a couple of kids, a part-time job, and the fact that I was female. I'm not a whiner, but I had a few professors who clearly didn't want me there.

Example #2: the pastor

I once had a pastor who I looked up to a great deal, a man I respected and loved and worked with well. He told me two things that I will tell you about here, one positive and one negative. One I've tried to live up to, and the other I've tried to defy.

This man is a master storyteller. He can take any story, from the Bible or otherwise, and keep you enthralled for any amount of time. It is his particular gift. He has honed it from the stage, and I'm not sure I've ever seen his equal.

He once told me that I was a good storyteller. Coming from him, I would love to believe that's true. I should probably work at it, as he has, to make it so if I wish it to be true.

He also told me once that I wasn't creative. This was several years ago, when I wanted to be more involved in a creative area. I'm not sure why he said it, although it may be just a downside of the "engineer" label. In any case, a small part of the joy I find in my creative pursuits is showing that voice in my head that he's wrong.

Before anyone asks, yes, I've gone back and talked to this pastor. I've long since forgiven him. In fact, I'm thankful for what he said: it spurred me to do a lot of things I might not have otherwise done.

Have you considered the impact your words have on others -- your co-workers, your friends, your spouse, your children? What are the words in your life that have changed your course? Spurred you on? Made you better?


Cindy said...

Love this post Lis.

I'll play.

#1 I was never good at math in elementary school. My 7th grade math teacher (Ms. Pearson) told me I didn't belong in the regular math class, but that I should be in the accelerated class. I was shocked. No one ever thought I was good at math. I went on to ace calculus my senior year. Her words gave me confidence to do well in a "non-female" subject. Not that I really use that much math, but I'm an accountant today.

Another one is from you! Long ago, we were in big D with Daddy. You & I had a fight while Daddy was at work. I told you I wanted you to "go away" - I actually screamed it. You did. You walked out of the apartment. I freaked out - started running all over the complex yelling "LISA, I LOVE YOU! COME BACK!" I still get nervous thinking about it. I thought you were really gone! It reminds me all the time not to say things I don't really mean to people that I love.

nate said...

Stumbled here via Brad Ruggles...

I am glad you respect (you watch your tone) authority, but respectfully question it.

Just the other day I told my mom I was going back for my PhD...I could see the look of disgust masked believe the fake look of interest before she quickly changed the subject.

She later pointed out to my sister that I was too much of a dreamer, and that's why I haven't really "done anything" with my life, and that I was mistaken if I thought I could work full time, raise four kids with my wife, and go back to school.

I have yet another reason to go back to school now.

So today when I picked up my five year old boy from kindergarten and the teacher informed me he had peed his pants, I recalled my mom's words and refused to bring up the little accident with my son. I know I've probably been over bearing with him in the past...not today.

Psychology and electrical!

Lisa said...

Wow, some great discussion going on here.

For anyone who doesn't know or can't tell, Cindy is my sister -- my one and only sibling -- and one of the people closest to me in many ways.

Nate, thanks for the comment. Press on!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,

I saw your post on Martha's blog and stumbled onto yours trying to figure out who LisaLisaLisa was. Then I realized it was you, whom I somehow know through ... let's count the ways ... a UT class, an IBM co-op, a visit to our church, a party at Doug's, a resume, and now a comment on my wife's blog!

Looking back to UT, I feel so clueless now, knowing then that you had children, but not realizing until years later, how hard is must have been. Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a very belated congratulations on fighting it through.