Words: Fertilizer or Coffin Nails?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me. – Childhood rhyme

     Did you ever sing that song about sticks-and-stones after someone insulted you? We both know that’s not true, don’t we? Words are either fertilizer that causes growth or they are coffin nails that drive our souls six-feet-under.

     Words matter. Do you know the difference between pre-history and history? Words. Pre-history is that expanse of time that happened before someone started carving words or symbols in stone. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone is considered one of, if not, the most significant archeological find because finally there were words to let us know what people where thinking and doing. Anthropologists – those who study human cultures – will quickly identify that that most vulnerable cultures are the ones that rely only on oral tradition to pass history from one generation to the next. Many cultures have disappeared simply because no one wrote down the language that described their view of the world and who they lived in it.

      As my son, Caleb, reminds me, “No one ever started a revolution by talking. Those who change the way the world thinks are those who write things down.”

      Words come to us in various forms but, in the English language, they are always the combination of 26 letters, all rearranged to describe the world as we know it. Parents celebrate that moment when a child makes that transition from goo-goo-gah-gah to saying, Mom or Dad.”

I can live two months on one good compliment. – Mark Twain

      You have the ability to improve the people around you through the power of a good compliment. Even if you have tough things that need to be addressed, lead with a genuine compliment and you will have a much more positive outcome.

      My 8th grade football coach was a former Marine drill instructor whose cigarette-smoke breath I still smell each time a Kansas prairie burns. I suppose yelling derogatory insults works well if you’re an Army drill instructor sending kids off to face machine guns, but that style of leadership never motivated me. However, my basketball coach in high school was generous with true compliments and I exerted herculean effort to please him. Oh, sure, he’d bark at me if I messed up so I worked harder to make sure he never had to bark at me.

       There is also some science behind this that indicates people will perform better if they receive honest compliments. The brain is more stimulated by a compliment than it is by a cash reward. 

  • Be genuine- The compliment must be real. An insincere compliment is like your Mom washing your face with a dirty washrag; it just doesn’t do the job. Or, as my Dad used to say, They’re blowing smoke up your skirt, sonny.
  • Be specific – Find something specific that person does such as, I like the way you treat people as equals. Broad generalities like, you’re the greatest person in the world, are like participation medals; they mean almost nothing and are cheap. The most unusual compliment I ever received was from a lady who was introducing me to a group of people whom I was going to address on the issue of hunger and said, “Rick has a heart bigger than my butt!” A bit awkward, but I’ve never forgotten it!
  • Be generous – Most people have a fair share of negative thoughts banging around in their head that they could use a few more compliments to overcome negative voices.
  • Be quick – When you see someone doing good, compliment them immediately.
  • Be creative- If passing on a verbal compliment is hard for you, send a note, write an email, or give them a bar of chocolate (okay, maybe that only works on me).

     You have the ability to not only brighten someone’s day, you have the power to help them perform with greater passion and excellence.

      Besides all of that, being nice will increase your own personal happiness.

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