When people say, “I want to give my children a better life,” they infer that they experienced some form of deprivation growing up, and want to provide better. This is a great goal if it is more than providing material comforts and conveniences, which in excess can deprive children of lessons learned from sacrifice, patience, and hard work. What can we give our children and grandchildren that will be of the most value, both in this life and the next? The Lord has given parents responsibility to teach children principles of virtue, light, and truth. These values are not usually learned in school classrooms or from friends. “Ye will not suffer your children…that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil…but ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:14-15). We can make our homes houses of learning where we talk openly, listen, encourage questioning, testify, exemplify, and seek learning ourselves, for we cannot teach what we do not know. “Reverently speak of the Savior—in the car, on the bus, at the dinner table, as you kneel in prayer, during scriptures study, or late-night conversations—and the Spirit of the Lord will accompany your words…Your testimony will never leave your children…and will prepare them for the challenges they will most surely face” (Neil A. Anderson).
In high school I was on the debate team and learned to spar with words. The winner had the most persuasive stance, the last word, and left the other team without retort. But outside this arena in our human interactions, there is a different set of rules. What is more important—to prove oneself right, or to preserve another’s dignity and worth? The latter seems obvious. Opinions can be voiced with softening prefaces such as these: “That’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t viewed that perspective before.” “Another way of looking at that issue is…” “ Here’s something else that makes sense to me.” “Yes, I would add to your comment that…” And there’s always this standby: “In my opinion…” With sensitivity, I can ask questions to evoke deeper thought, then pull back and listen without interrupting. Really listen with the intent to understand. Be willing to sacrifice victory at having the last word in order to preserve another’s credibility. It is better to be understated than overstated. A few well-chosen, kindly-spoken words can be more influential than verbal bulldozing to prove oneself right at any cost. These truths can fortify all our relationships—in the workplace, at home with our children, and in our marriages.
When I was a teenager, my father and I had a code word to indicate my need for a private talk. When the cue was given, Dad abruptly stopped his work and we popped in the car for a drive. With eyes facing forward, words seemed to flow easier. At first I unloaded my heartache or injustice—often through a flood of unreasonable tears. Dad listened…and listened…sometimes interjecting a question. He deserved a purple heart for his excruciating endurance to receive my avalanche of words while restraining even a single word of lecture. As I captured feelings into words, I began to understand myself better. My inner storm gradually subsided. Before our “discussion” was over, Dad always offered a suggestion of something to try, a possible action. It wasn’t pitched as, “This is what you should do”—but rather, “Here’s something you might try.” He affirmed his love for me and described some aspect of my worth that I couldn’t see. Climbing out of the car, I felt emptied and filled at the same time—while clutching something concrete to try. And if that plan didn’t work, there were other plans queued up. My father didn’t have training in psychological counseling. But his formula helped me through the rocky terrain of adolescence, and became my desired model for parenting much later. What do you see as the benefits of talking to your teen in the car?
Summer is busy, so here is a super-short reminder for all of us. When I was a teenager, I read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The truths he described so long ago still ring true. Extracted from his book are 6 salient points, recalled from memory in my own words:
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember a person’s name.
- Be a good listener.
- Talk about another’s interests. Get him to talk about himself.
- Highlight and reflect the other person’s strengths.
I want to learn their names…learn their stories…learn their hearts…learn their worth. I want to be “other-centered.”
I’m collecting an idea bank of ways to reach out in kindness to others. Here is a list of kindnesses that others have offered to me that I really appreciate: Receiving an unexpected thank-you card or text. Making me feel welcome in a group of strangers. Giving me eye contact while I speak. Carving out time for me when schedules are busy. Praying for me. Telling me the truth when it isn’t easy. Anticipating my need and stepping in to help when I couldn’t ask. Showing me a beautiful sunset that I didn’t notice. Remembering my name. Teaching me a new skill. Forgiving me. Kidnapping me and taking me to lunch. Listening to my problems with empathy. Sharing an uplifting thought that resonates in my soul. Showing me a better way by a shining example. Sharing a good book. Encouraging me when I think I can’t. Giving a heartfelt hug. Helping me see something good in myself. Remembering my birthday. Laughing with me. Dismissing my faults and focusing on my best.
Can you share some meaningful kindnesses that you especially appreciate?