I remember what you said to me
Charles Paddock, the gold medal winner of the 100m at the 1920 Olympic Games, once gave a motivational speech to a spell-bound audience in school. A skinny boy approached him and exclaimed, “Gee, I’d give anything to be an Olympic champion just like you.”
The track star looked at the 15-year-old, smiled and said, “You can if you’ll work, if you’ll dream.”
The boy took the hero’s words to heart and intensified his training. In 1936 at the Berlin Olympics, he won 4 gold medals. His name: Jesse Owens. During a ticker-tape parade, Jesse was swarmed by admirers. One of them, a young Harrison Dillard, pressed forward and yelled, “Gee, Mr Owens, I’d give anything to be an Olympic champ just like you!”
Jesses responded, “If you work and train and believe, you can be an Olympic champion!”
Inspired, Harrison trained hard. 12 years later, he stormed the track and won the London Olympics 100m.
The remarkable streak of inspiration continued. In the same manner, Harrison motivated another kid. That kid, Lee Calhoun went on to win successful gold medals in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics. And, yep you guessed it right; Calhoun in turn encouraged Hayes Jones to Olympics fame in 1964.
The incredible legacy of inspiration passed down from one great sportsman to another sparked off a succession of athletic achievements. Each person touched another in turn with words that instilled the faith to excel.
Detractors may bemoan that for every success there is an overwhelming host of failures. They are missing the point. We may not win medals, but we are no less challenged in life for the race we will repeatedly face: nurturing the impressionable mind of each child. There will be times a wide-eyed child looks to us for faith-imparting words that can set the course for his future.
Our encouragement can lift the dismal performance of a child to the greater height of achievement; gentle but firm correction steer him from the path of waywardness to realize his potential. The power of words of encouragement and affirmation can have far-reaching consequence on the life of the child. He remembers what was said to him: what spurs him on, what reinforces his self-esteem, what keeps him going.
However, there is another flip side to the power of words. The child also remembers the less savory side of what was side to him. The following tragedy tells of an unloved child subject to verbal abuse.
In the 18th century, William Henry Ireland lived a life devoid of love and respect. His father was an antiquarian bookseller obsessed with William Shakespeare relics and literatures, but cared nothing about his son. William often suffered humiliation and neglect – and was told he was a useless dullard with no talent. Surprisingly under such oppressive circumstances, he developed a gift for writing which was largely ignored by his father.
William longed to win his father’s heart. An idea came after noting his father’s passion and life-long wish to uncover a lost work of the Great Bard. The young man forged a document purportedly handwritten by Shakespeare and presented the ‘find’ to the overjoyed Ireland senior.
Happy that he now had his father’s attention; William produced more forged documents written by the revered playwright, culminating in a monumental mother of all finds: the lost play “Vortigern”. The father was ecstatic over the turn of events.
The sensational find caught the attention of the public and the scrutiny of experts. Astoundingly, some experts of the day authenticated the manuscripts as genuine to the delight of the father. Nevertheless, the foremost Shakespearean authority remained skeptical.
After prolonged nationwide interest and investigation, the truth finally came out. Vortigern was declared a fake. William tried to salvage a vestige of credit by confessing to his father on the forgery. He hoped at least for recognition of his writing talent and an appreciation at least that he was worthy to be the son. Unconvinced, his father berated him and held the play to be genuine. A heated argument ensued and both would never again talk to each other.
William was a tragic example of a talent that went unappreciated. One could only wonder whether if earlier given the proper encouragement earlier by his father, he would be honed into a writer of repute, instead of being assigned forever to the gallery of forgers and fraudster.
The sword of rash words brings about destruction of frightening proportion to a child.
We reap what we sow. Sow harsh, malicious words and we reap their frightful recompense. Ruined family ties littered countless lives on the account of rash words, thoughtless comments and verbal abuse.
Ridicules and insults dampen a child’s spirit and lead to his loss of confidence and esteem. Pass disparaging remarks on his capability and mistake and he will withdraw into a cocoon of self-defeat. A budding music talent can refuse to perform again after being chided for failing to play flawlessly. An emerging track of hope can retreat forever from competition after being derided for not going faster.
Prudence demands the restrain of words of their judicious use. A person with hair-trigger tongue sets in motion a trail of wreckage in relationship.
Thankfully, we do hear of compassionate words invoking positive action in turn. Kind words of a teacher spur an indolent child to work hard and do well. Comforting words of an adult calm a fearful child to overcome inhibitions and press on.
Words builds and words destroy.
Let’s choose to build.
Happy we will be to hear someone telling us, “I remember what you said to me. . . “ and goes on to relate how he is encouraged and how it makes a difference in his life.
Happy we will be.