When my daughter Alexis was a little girl, her dad used to say to her, “Lexie, repeat after me: I am a young lady of quality.” She would stand up straight, pull her shoulders back, and say with conviction, “I am a young lady of quality.” This ritual happened often and usually ended with hugs and laughter. It is among my fondest memories of the years when my children were growing up. I loved that my husband did this for our daughter, and I secretly wished my own dad had done it for me. There’s no real way to measure the effect this had on Alexis’s self-worth or her life path, but at the very least, I believe it let her know her father loved her and saw something very good in her.
When I look back on my own childhood, I often recall the voices of the adults I interacted with during those early, formative years. The voices that echo the loudest are the ones at the ends of the spectrum: the very positive ones and the very negative ones.
One of the positive voices was that of my father’s cousin, Amy. She was warm and cheerful and she always seemed happy to see me.
I loved her dearly.
I was a shy little girl, and I felt kind of invisible—like there wasn’t anything special about me. I think Amy knew I felt that way, because she seemed to go out of her way to make me feel valued. One memory of her stands out vividly; I was about six or seven and my family was visiting hers. She asked me to go with her into her dining room where she showed me a pitcher, handmade of clay, with a deer sculpted onto the front of it. I had seen it before, but no one had ever told me that my great-grandfather made it. As I traced my small fingers along the antlers and down the back of the deer, Amy told me about my great-grandfather. She told me about the intricate wood carvings and pottery he made, just for fun, and the elegant silverware patterns he designed which were then manufactured by a jewelry company. As she told me about the pitcher and the many other beautiful things he had made, she made sure I understood that he had a true artistic gift.
I somehow knew she was telling me that I should look for that same gift in myself.
That event took place a very long time ago, yet I remember it clearly because of the way it made me feel. As I looked at the beauty my great-grandfather had worked into that earthen vessel, I felt hopeful. I sensed that there might also be something of beauty in this earthen vessel: in me.
I wish every child could have a moment like I had that day, because every child has something of beauty to offer to the world.
(There is treasure in every earthen vessel!)
But if they don’t know to look for it, it never gets developed. It gets wasted. And we all miss out.
So, in this world where there are countless voices speaking into the lives of children, and where so many of those voices are negative, critical and discouraging, I’ve decided to be one of the positive ones.
When I see a child doing something polite or creative or funny or kind, I try to comment on it—or even just smile, to let them know someone noticed and approved. If I meet a child who seems withdrawn and shy, I try to engage them in conversation, to let them know I’m interested in what they’re thinking—that their thoughts have value.
I believe a little encouragement can go a long way in a young heart and mind.
A wise man once said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”*
I couldn’t agree more.
*The wise man was Benjamin Disraeli.