There are plenty of philosophers who insist that we're responsible for our own happiness/state of inner peace/how we feel about ourselves -- however you want to frame it. And to a significant degree, they're right. We're responsible for how we react to what others say and do. That's something over which we have control (even though most of us haven't been taught the skill of mindfully choosing our reactions).
But, it's also true that what others say to us has an influence on how we feel. None of us can blithely let the slings and arrows slide by and not feel a bit of the sting at least some of the time. And when someone pays us a genuine compliment, most of us can't help feeling good about that.
As middle-school teacher Sarah Anderson recently wrote about in an essay for Teaching Tolerance, name-calling is pervasive in schools. As she says:
"I noticed that while name-calling is second nature to many, complimenting others is seen as weird. I decided to challenge the culture of name-calling and derail bullying in my school by practicing giving compliments. I started by explicitly teaching this new skill."And once her students got over their initial squeamishness, they embraced the opportunity to give sincere, authentic, meaningful compliments to each other. And it's changing the culture in their classroom. As Anderson says:
"I am frequently impressed with how insightful and compassionate my students can be. ... My students haven’t completely stopped calling each other names. But, we are designing a new language to recognize one another instead of using our words to tear down or hurt. Working together to learn an alternative way to treat each other hopefully cuts off bullying before it can even begin."Something similar happened in my 4th grade classroom, and I've never forgotten it. Our teacher, Mrs. Leddy, had us do a "car wash" each week. One of us would be the “car,” and the other students would form two lines in front of the car. One by one, zigzagging from one side to the other, the "car" would go to each person in the “wash” line, and that person would whisper into the “car’s” ear something good about them — something that the speaker liked, respected, appreciated or admired about them.
The details of those individual encounters when it was my turn is fuzzy, but the memory of how I felt after having been washed in all that good will and kindness is still precious to me.
Such compassionate communication can begin at a very early age, as these pre-schoolers demonstrate.
We have the opportunity every day to help people feel good. I'm not talking about false or meaningless compliments. I mean taking time -- even just a little -- to mindfully connect with others; to speak the good in them and help them see it in themselves; to maintain compassion and patience when engaged in a difficult situation with another and transform the encounter into something positive.
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