A lesson from toothpaste

Toothpaste-Tube-RedWhiteBluePasteMy fabulous children’s manners teacher, Jan Townsend, forwarded me a Facebook post written by someone I don’t know. The author’s name is Amy and I was both excited and moved by her words. In her post she talked about teaching her daughter, who was entering middle school, about kindness. To teach the lesson, she had her daughter Breonna squeeze out a bunch of toothpaste from a tube and then instructed her to put it back in the toothpaste tube. Her daughter protested and said she couldn’t and that it wouldn’t be like it was before.  Amy waited for her daughter to finish and then taught the kindness message. This is what she said to her daughter:

“You will remember this plate of toothpaste for the rest of your life. Your words have the power of life or death. As you go into middle school, you are about to see just how much weight your words carry. You are going to have the opportunity to use your words to hurt, demean, slander and wound others. You are also going to have the opportunity to use your words to heal, encourage, inspire and love others. You will occasionally make the wrong choice; I can think of three times this week I have used my own words carelessly and caused harm. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back. Use your words carefully, Breonna. When others are misusing their words, guard your words. Make the choice every morning that life-giving words will come out of your mouth. Decide tonight that you are going to be a life-giver in middle school. Be known for your gentleness and compassion. Use your life to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness.”

This is exactly how we teach the children in our manners classes the importance of not gossiping. We invite a child up to squeeze toothpaste out of a tube and then ask him or her to try to put it back in. But I really like that Amy has expanded it to be more than just gossip. It’s a powerful visual reminder that once hurtful words are out you can’t take them back.

Amy used the words “life-giver” and I would change that to “love-giver.” We have the choice to be either a love-giver or a hate-giver. Our words can heal and uplift or hurt and demean. I can think back to too many times where I, like Amy, made the wrong choice and let my words be hurtful rather than helpful. I still think about those times and feel shame and remorse that I wasn’t more careful with my words.

Kindness can be so powerful. I remember a time after a swim at the pool. I was changing in the locker room and I had my things strewn about me. It was a busy swim time so the locker room was crowded. The woman next to me said, “Let me move to another area so you have more room.” She could have said, “You’re taking up a lot of space, can you move your things?” While that wouldn’t have been terribly hurtful, offering to move was a very kind way to handle it. It allowed me to save face (not have my faults pointed out). Her graciousness also made me realize I was taking up a lot of room without having to be told I was. I vowed to be more careful with how much space I was using in the future.

What kind words can you say to someone today?

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