THE LASTING POWER OF KINDNESS



"Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are both
true and kind, they can change our world."
-Buddha

Today's tip is built around a true story, made famous after appearing in the first 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' book. It was written by Sister Helen P. Mrosla, and it has a profound impact on me every time I read it. I'll share my thoughts with you about why that is after you've read it as well...

----------------
All Good Things
----------------
He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's
School in Morris, Minn. All 34 of my students were dear to me,
but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance,
but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his
occasional mischievousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again
that talking without permission was not acceptable. What
impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every
time I had to correct him for misbehaving - "Thank you for
correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at
first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many
times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once
too often, and then I made a novice-teacher's mistake. I looked
at Mark and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape
your mouth shut!" It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck
blurted out; "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the
students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the
punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I
walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took
out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded
to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X
with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the
room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at
me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I
walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my
shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me,
Sister."

At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math.
The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom
again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since
he had to listen carefully to my instruction in the new math,
he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third.

One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on
a new concept all week and I sensed that the students were
frowning, frustrated with themselves - and edgy with one
another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of
hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in
the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each
name.

Then I asked them to think of the nicest thing they could say
about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the
remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as
the students left the room, each one handed me the papers.
Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister.
Have a good weekend."

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a
separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had
said about that individual. On Monday I gave each student his or
her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?"
I heard whispered. I never knew that meant anything to anyone!"
"I didn't know others liked me so much." No one ever mentioned
those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed
them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter.
The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were
happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I
returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we
were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about
the trip - the weather, my experiences in general. There was a
lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a side-ways glance and
simply says, "Dad"?" My father cleared his throat as he usually
did before saying something important. "The Eklunds called last
night," he began. "Really?" I said. "I haven't heard from them
in years. I wonder how Mark is." Dad responded quietly. "Mark
was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and
his parents would like it if you could attend."

To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where
Dad told me about Mark. I had never seen a serviceman in a
military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All
I could think at that moment was, "Mark, I would give all the
masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me".

The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on
the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the
graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler
played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by
the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water. I was the last one
to bless the coffin.

As I stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer
came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I
nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about
you a lot," he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to
Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were
there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you
something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket.
"They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you
might recognize it."

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of
notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and
refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were
the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of
Mark's classmates had said about him. "Thank you so much for
doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured
it."

Mark's classmates started to gather around us. Charlie smiled
rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the
top drawer of my desk at home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked
me to put his in our wedding album." "I have mine too," Marilyn
said. "It's in my diary." Then Vicki, another classmate,
reached into her pocketbook took out her wallet and showed her
worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at
all times," Vicki said without batting an eyelash. "I think we
all saved our lists."

That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and
for all his friends who would never see him again.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

There are many obvious reasons that this story touches my heart
- it is about life and death, friendship and love. It is about
having a teacher and mentor who cares for you above and beyond
the call of duty - who loves you absolutely and believes in you
and your ability to create a life worth living.

But what gets to me beyond all that is the profound simplicity
of what Sister Helen did. She impacted those kids lives (and
mine as well) not through 'clever classroom techniques' or
ramrod discipline but through an understanding of one simple
principle:

*One kind word rightly used can heal a lifetime of pain.*

That's a power we all have inside us - to use our words in ways
that uplift, encourage, challenge and heal. To speak in a way
that catalyzes possibility when people are stuck in limitation
and evokes love, care and kindness in the midst of the chaos of
every day life.

Today's experiment is a simple one:

*Tell someone you love what it is that you love about them
*Tell someone you care about that you believe in them
*Tell a complete stranger something nice that you notice about
them

In the words of William Makepeace Thackeray:

"Never lose a chance of saying a kind word."

With love,
Michael

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