Not too long ago, I gave the opening keynote at a large state association annual conference. The title of my session was: “The Power at Hand.” Basically, I explain to people how much power they have within themselves (most don’t realize this…), and I encourage them to discover that power, and use it for good in their own lives…and subsequently, impact the world in which they live. As is the norm in these type of situations (and a part of my work that I love…), attendees will come up after the session, introduce themselves and we “visit” for a little while. The same routine was occurring at the end of this particular presentation.
As I was talking with some of the people, I noticed a lady over to the side, by herself, waiting to talk with me. She was crying. She very patiently waited for all the other people to leave, and she slowly made her way to me. As she walked towards me, she went from silently crying to almost convulsive sobs. When she got within reaching distance, I stretched out my arms to this perfect stranger, and clutched her to my chest, just like a mother trying to comfort a child. I let her sob for quite a few minutes.
As the sobs began to subside, she began to tell me her story. The first words out of her mouth were, “I ALWAYS wanted to be a nurse.” I looked at her and asked the obvious question, “Why did you not become one?” She looked at me so pitifully and said that when she was in high school, the career counselor told her she was not smart enough to be a nurse. My first reaction to this revelation was one of total and complete sorrow. The second reaction was one of righteous ANGER!! I wanted vengeance for this woman…I wanted to correct the situation…I wanted that “career” counselor to grovel, prostrate, in front of this broken women, and beg for her forgiveness. But, being the professional that I am, I did not indicate any of that. I realized that the words I spoke to this sweet, sweet woman, were going to be just as important as the words of that high school counselor.
With my arms still around her, I asked, “What is your current position?” She said, “I am Supervisor of the Activity Department at a nursing facility.” I then asked a question that I already knew the answer to, “Do you have annual state and federal surveys (inspections)?” She indicated that she did. I asked, “Have you ever received a deficiency, or citation for noncompliance?” She said, “No, never!” And then I said, “Then you must be pretty smart! I know the regulations, as well as the survey process, and I am quite aware that an unintelligent person would not be able to pass those surveys.” She looked at me as if she had never thought of that, and said, “You’re RIGHT!!” We talked for quite a while longer, and then I told her that she could still become a nurse if she wanted to…that she had time to do so. I also encouraged her to stop giving that old high school counselor the “power” over her life and how she perceived herself. We parted ways at the end of our conversation…her, a much happier, determined woman…me, a little sadder that she had lost so many years, believing the words of a “professional in authority,” yet, I was also a little happier in that I do believe the words I used actually helped her realize the possibilities and potential of her life.
What words of encouragement to others have you used today? I hear parents telling children how dumb they are, how they are “driving them crazy,” how “bothersome” they are…and my heart breaks for that child. I hear couples continually finding fault with each other, using words and “negatives” to describe actions, intelligence and decisions…and my heart breaks for those couples. I see friends use sweeter words with perfect strangers, just in passing, than they use with the friends of their heart…and my heart breaks for those individuals. A physical blow will at some point heal; that does not diminish its severity. However, words pierce the very souls of children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, elders, parents, and even though time heals most incidents, “words” are almost always remembered. What do your words say about you? Do your words encourage and comfort those in your life, or do they continually berate and harm? You see in my story that “words” caused a young person to lose belief in a dream, and impacted how she viewed herself the rest of her life. I want my words to be remembered because they were kind, supportive, encouraging, and most of all…LOVING! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…