Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lets Hear it for the Boy

Xeni Jardin, one of the co-founders of boingboing commented on a Nerdist podcats that she felt so much deeper about negative comments than positive. This got me to thinking about the power of feedback.

Dr. Phil says that it takes 1000 attaboys to make up for one "you're stupid." What people say to you, especially during vulnerable times, matters. How you record and replay these comments matters too.

I wondered if I could come up with a compliment that could get past all the shit that someone like Ms. Jardin sees? Or anyone. What would it look like? Would it require one thousand words?

A complimentary statement by my favorite teacher contained only a few words and changed me forever. My dad and best friend also helped me see myself in a positive light. These "attagirl" experiences took only a few moments of time and yet brightly lit my path.

Somehow, I managed to spark something with my 10th grade geometry teacher in between classes and we became friendlier than teacher student. I'd gotten this wonderful tiny dictionary and told her how much fun I found it looking up words. She told me that she used to teach English.

Every day, she told me of a word to look up and I would bring her the definition the next day. I even started finding words to tell her about. I found "hugger mugger - scary movie" and she enlightened me about pejorative and it's opposite meliorative.

As I am legally blind, I often took math tests into the visually impaired resource room. As part of the accommodation, most teachers let me take as long as I needed for exams.

One test day, I got the paper and left class. I returned a bit after the bell rang to go to the next subject and handed in my paper. My best friend at the time grumbled that she didn't have time to finish. When we got the tests back, a lot of the other students complained that they didn't have enough time to finish. I had finished and even did the exra credit and ended up with a score of 104.

I don't recall the next highest score, but I think it was 84 or 86. I know it wasn't above 90. After class I went to the teacher and suggested she toss my score out as unusual because I could take extra time.

Ms. Carley told me no. She said, "you're just smart." I mean I knew that I really liked math and it was fair to accept my grade, I did get every question correct, but it didn't ever occur to me that I could be head of the class. My teacher thought more of me than I knew how to think of myself.

So did my dad. While talking to him on the phone I mentioned I attended regular therapy. At first I thought his reaction would hurt me. He raised his voice in annoyance, "Why in the hell do you want to do that!" Taken aback, I almost hung up on him, but I decided to push back and told him I had some stuff to work out.

He took a long pause to think it over and calmly said, "Well, kid, if anyone can work it out, you can." Who knew that my ornery, mixed up father hid ninja parenting skills in his back pocket.

Jess alerted me to how good I am at making lemonade out of lemons. Up until the day she told me this, I'd regarded my 12th birthday party as hellish. I'd invited friends over to go horseback riding and my mother flaked and refused to take us.

I entertained my friends by walking around the neighborhood and going across a busy street for snacks. Jessie's family sheltered her so this was the first time she walked around a strange place. She told me she felt more confident after our little adventure.

I decided the though it was my birthday, the benefit for my friend meant more. I got my gift 20 years late, but so what. It still counts.

A few complimentary words can turn a life around. Think back on the times that someone changed you for the better. Each one of my examples had to feel real to me. How can we all find the honest spark that can show someone how amazing they are?

So here it is, Xeni Jardin: Your calm wit and confidence inspired me to think back about the amazing gifts kind words gave me. I hope that someday you get to find the same holds true for you. Sure, learn from all the feedback AND start letting in the love.

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