Recently we are hearing a great deal about the value of words. It confuses me that so many people are ready to verbally attack others and then say that words don't matter. To me, it's like a free pass to be a jerk because words aren't important anyway. When did this happen? When did we decide that words don't matter?
Everything I say every day goes into the ears of young people that think I know everything. (Not even close, Folks!) Words do have power. I know that I have control over my response to negative words. I can choose to not be upset and realize that people are just mean and that's their problem. If I've learned anything from Oprah, it's that I am not the problem when someone says mean things, it's the person saying mean things. I don't have to give power to those words. But try to teach that to young, impressionable children. It's not easy.
The world we live in today is so much different than the world I grew up in. The children have access to so much negativity. I never knew anything really bad about the world when I was little. My parents never told me anything about who they voted for, even when I asked. We never discussed adult topics and the closest thing I had to social media was writing notes to my friends and Tiger Beat magazine. (That's where the posters of Jon Bon Jovi were, of course!) The kids were all respectful of the President of the United States and we all loved him and we all said no to drugs because of Nancy Reagan, right? The kids today see EVERY SINGLE THING that is said or done because of access to social media. They are watching every move we make because we feed it to them. Right or wrong, we should be thinking about what they are seeing and how they process it. They believe everything we tell them and they believe everything adults say. Why shouldn't they? Didn't you believe everything adults said when you were a kid?
One of the first lessons in third grade is about feelings. We discuss how important feelings are. My mantra every day is "You feel what you feel. Every feeling is okay." The students have to learn what to do with those feelings. We learn that you can't go hit someone if you feel mad. It's not okay to call names if you feel hurt. It is okay to feel mad or hurt. It's what we do with those feelings that keep us healthy and productive members of society. The kids learn to talk about their feelings and tell each other how they feel. Students have gone from destroying property and physical violence, to discussing how they feel and realizing they are not alone in the short time they've been in third grade. Words. Lots of words got us to that point. But some say words mean nothing.
When my students call each other retarded, dumb, fat, stupid, or ugly, should I just say, "Those are just words, kid. They shouldn't upset you." But, you feel what you feel, don't you?
I'm hearing more and more from people that we live in a world of too much political correctness and people should just say what they feel and stop being afraid of offending others. When someone tells you that what you say is offensive or hurts their feelings, it's maybe worth a second or two to listen to that person. Is it that hard to stop saying things that hurt people? It's not being "politically correct" to be nice. Why is being nice so wrong? I had a discussion with a man recently about using the word "retarded". He said we used it as kids and no one batted an eye. I totally agreed with him, but I also pointed out that we didn't know that it hurt feelings. Now we know. So we can stop. It's okay to admit we were wrong. Over the years I've been told I need to get thicker skin because I get my feelings hurt easily. Instead of telling people to get thicker skin, how about we just be nicer? Why is that so hard to understand?
One of the things that prompted me to write this today was this story. I have a little boy that cries because he doesn't understand what to do, and I tell him he needs to listen. Then he cries because his dad calls him a "dumb f*****" when he gets bad grades. Should I just tell that boy that those are just words? Should I tell him he needs thicker skin?
I believe Whitney Houston said it best, or was it Jack Black? Anyway, I believe the children ARE our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Believe me when I say, kids are not born with hate in their hearts. They are listening to us using our words.