Haunting Words · 25 September 2010
Sometimes your words come back to haunt you. Or maybe it is just me. I say things that are supposed to help my kids grow up and those words come back to haunt me.
In my classroom and at home, I have a couple favorite saying. “You are not allowed to insult anybody. Even yourself,” and “Your brain does not hear the word ‘not.’” I use the first one quite a bit in my classroom so students understand that they are not supposed to put themselves or anybody else down. They need to understand that they are the first people to hear their own voices and that words have power. I want them to know that when they insult themselves or others, they are really hurting themselves most of all. I have at least mentioned in one of my columns about the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” being one of the biggest lies ever told, and I mention it to my students as part of the rationale for not speaking badly to anybody.
Then I do it. I call myself dumb or put myself down. I insult myself because it is the only way that I can get any laughs. I just do it to show my students and kids how ridiculous it is to insult other people. I do it to help people laugh at themselves. I do it because my self-esteem is completely intact. And I do it to see if kids remember what I said about not insulting anybody, including themselves. Usually, they do. They tell me that I am not supposed to insult myself. Then, I thank them and say they are absolutely right to keep me honest about my own rules.
Even though I use the phrase, “Your brain does not hear the word ‘not,’” seemingly multiple times a day, everybody around me comes up with negative phrases to try to change their own or other’s behaviors. I often tell people, “Say ‘do eat less,’ instead of, ‘do not eat more.’” Or “’Do this,’ instead of ‘Don’t do that.’” My athletes and classroom students usually seem to get it. Sometimes, even the adults around me get it. Then, they all seem to catch me when I say phrases with “not” in them.
At home it is a little different. I have spy kids around me. They catch everything. And they are merciless when they catch me being a hypocrite about my words.
When I get exasperated about the kids not listening and doing what they have been told, I ask, “Why do I need to tell you five times before you do what I ask?” They do not even need to correct me because I already know that their brains just heard, “You need to listen to me on the fifth time, but can ignore me until then.” I know this is so because that is exactly what happens. While this is not exactly what I started talking about, it does say lots for the power of words.
The biggest mistake I make at home is telling my family that I am not something. I do not even know when I use the phrase, but I catch myself saying, “I am not a moron,” or “I’m not dumb,” all too often. My kids and wife jump on the opportunity to correct me anytime I say a “not phrase” in a conversation. There is no waiting to hear it the fifth time like an order or request. I immediately hear a chorus of “Dad says he’s a moron. Dad says he’s a moron. Dad says he’s a moron.” When I try to quiet them, somebody usually says, “You always say that the brain does not hear ‘not.’” And so it goes. I say I am not something and everybody around me says I am that something because the brain does not hear the word “not.”
Whether I call myself a moron or not a moron, I truly must be one. I get in trouble for breaking my own rule about disparaging myself one way. I get called a moron when I say I am not and get a lesson about the brain not hearing that three letter word the other way. No matter what I do, I am sunk. Maybe I should follow the sage words of advice: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” But I doubt I will. I will surely keep letting my own words come back to haunt me. Every single day.
© 2010 Michael T. Miyoshi
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