What is it that causes children and adults to think poorly of themselves? If we look at the impact environment has on every living thing, we may see something of the reason. Flowers without light do not flourish as do those with sunshine. If this happens when the plant is young, it may die. If sunshine does come eventually, it will not have as beneficial an effect as if it had been there from the beginning.
A tree always in a westerly wind will grow leaning to the east.
Even if a building is erected in the path of the wind, and the tree is no longer forced to bend east, it will still not straighten on its own. There would need to be some intervention to pull it upright.
Pet dogs who have been hit by their masters will cower when a person raises a hand even to stroke them. That fear can stay forever.
People react much the same. If the environment has been positive for them, they will feel good about themselves. If not, the results are the opposite. We all thrive when people are positive about us. Hearing only harshly negative things, or having our shortcomings dwelt upon can pull all the joy out of an otherwise pleasant day.
From the day we were born, we have been taking in everything that happens around us. We listen, watch and gather information so that we can make sense of the world and its inhabitants. We learn what others think of us. And that comes from the things we hear them say, or their actions.
Mistakes happen to all of us, and they happen every day. They are very often the way we learn. But how others respond to our mistakes will affect our own feeling about self.
If you are a parent, let your children overhear you praising them to others. So that over the telephone when you say to Grandma, “I was so proud of Joey yesterday, He was a real peacemaker in the park. I think the other boys follow his lead, so it is just wonderful that he is leading in the right way,” Joey will smile inside and feel good.
Now suppose your daughter overheard you saying to her teacher, “I just don’t know about Cathy. She doesn’t do things right at home either, I cannot tell if it is stubbornness or if she is just so slow she can’t do it.” Cathy will soon get the idea that she cannot do things well and she may become stubborn. For certain she will find it hard to try something new.
If you are a teacher, encourage your students, ages 3 or 23, instead of pushing them. Find the good in them and build on that.
All people make mistakes, so when they do, we would do well to try to minimize the wrongdoing and focus on the good things. Corrections have to be made, but attacks are not necessary. Gentle reminders usually influence much better than harshness. Find in yourself the gentleness of St. Francis, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Remember, we all make mistakes, even you and me. Do not be like Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon who said, “I never make mistakes. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.”
Positive statements ought to be part of our everyday vocabulary. I’m sure you’ll do that, because you’re winners! All of you!
Peace to each and much gratitude,
Oldenburg Franciscan Center