One weekend during my middle school years, I invited a few of my girlfriends over for a pool party. During the festivities, my mother noticed one of my friends appeared to be upset. When Mom asked her what was wrong, she said she hated her big nose. My mother told her she had a beautiful Greek nose, and it was perfect. From then on, my friend never worried about the size of her nose, and grew to love it. The conversation had lasted only a few minutes, but the impact of my mother’s loving words to my friend have lasted over two decades.
My childhood friend told me this story a few weeks ago, when I announced on Facebook that I was looking forward to visiting my parents. She wanted me to say hi to my mother, that she was always so sweet to her, and then shared her story. Although I already knew my mother was a favorite of my adolescent friends, I was touched and proud. When I relayed the story to Mom, she had no recollection of the exchange, but I could tell it made her feel good to know she had made such a positive impact.
We have countless conversations in our lifetimes with strangers, friends, co-workers, loved ones, people who look up to us…sometimes we never know the impact a few casual words can have on someone. There are comments I’ve received–especially when I was growing up–that have stuck with me, some playing a part in shaping my identity and how I thought of myself. I’m sure the majority of those instances were of no consequence to the other person, and they would be shocked that I recall their words and the way I felt after I heard them.
The image-boosting conversation between my mom and friend made me think. I want to be more aware of what I say to others. Not to analyze everything I say it, but to remember that my words can have a long-lasting positive or negative effect. Compliments and encouragement should only be sincere and heartfelt. Criticism or advice should come from a place of friendship and love. Although contrary to the nursery school rhyme about sticks and stones, I think our words do have power. Power to heal or hurt, build up or tear down, inspire or discourage. If I do make an impact, I want it to be a positive one. How extraordinary it would be to hear I had a permanently positive effect on one’s self-esteem, like my mom had on my friend so many years ago. Little words can have a giant impact. So use your words well.