I think, in a way, we are very spoiled. The world is at our fingertips. We can see amazing things whenever we want. Some of the amazing things we see are real, some of them might even be staged (“reality TV”), but, nonetheless, in the moment at least, what we are watching seems real, amazing, other worldly, and significant.
I have run a countless number of races in my life. Yes, this includes 20 marathons. (I always keep an accurate count of my marathons.)
I love to run.
I have often stated that the marathon defines me.
It has been the strangest autumn of my life. Or, at least the strangest autumn of the last fifteen years – since 2002.
I’ve shared on these pages before that I’m not running a fall marathon this year.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling. And I don’t particularly like it. The beloved New York City Marathon, the race I love and adore, will go on without me.
Sometimes we can’t accomplish what we set our minds to do.
Sometimes impossible isn’t an illusion… it is real. Or, at least it seems real. We strive, we reach, we try – and we fall short, we stumble, we fall. We reach and try again. And fall and fail. We fall and fail and fail again. Or so it seems…
Sometimes the goal, whatever it is, seems too hard, too distant, too impossible. We say, “I can’t.” We say, “It’ll never happen.”
Often times we say, “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good at that.” (I am as guilty of this as anyone. There’s a lot I sometimes believe I can’t do.)
When we say the words, “I can’t,” we are limiting ourselves. As a result, I believe that some of the most damaging words in our language are “I can’t.”
When we say we can’t, we make our own lives poorer – not richer. When we say we can’t, we eliminate the possibilities and the learning that comes with and from new experiences. When we say we can’t, our world becomes smaller, our interests become fewer, and we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
(The following is a modified (slightly shortened and less school specific) version of the message I sent to my teaching staff as we begin to prepare for the opening of the 2017-18 school year in a few weeks. The message applies to all individuals in all walks of life and all professions.)
When I was a child growing up in the late 1970’s, the Houston Astros had very cool uniforms.
I was a Yankees fan (that is deep-seated in my blood), but there were times when I wished the Yankees could at least be a little more colorful. I, of course, love the Yankees’ midnight blue pinstripes and the interlocking NY, but for a kid, that Astros rainbow uniform was a lot more eye-catching!
The Astros also were also a pretty unique team. They played in the only domed stadium (The Astrodome), they played on fake grass (Astroturf), they had exciting players like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, and Cesar Cedeno (pictured above). The Astros were even featured in one of the Bad News Bears movies!
None of that influenced me enough to be an Astros fan, but it is undeniable that there was a certain appeal to rooting for the Houston Astros.
The words we use matter, always.
When we offer kindness, love, and support, we build people up.
When we are critical, or unkind, or mean, the words we deliver bring people down.
On the pages of my blog, in educational journals, and in other forums, I have often shared stories of how kind words make a positive difference. It happens all of the time.
When I run races, especially marathons, the words of encouragement shouted from the spectators makes an absolute difference in my mental state and my performance. When people call out, “You look great” or “You can do it!” I believe them – sincerely and absolutely. Positive words from people I don’t know and will never meet have helped me in each of my twenty marathons.
Just yesterday I was playing softball in the league I compete in. I was fortunate, I had a good day. It seemed that every ball hit to me at shortstop, I handled cleanly. Each time, my teammates shouted, “Great play” or “Paul, you’re doing super today.” The confidence from my teammates helped to make me have more confidence in myself, and, as a result, I played better.
Words matter. Absolutely. Always.
“I sometimes sit in awe of the tremendous power a teacher possesses – the tremendous impact that a teacher has on a child’s self-image now – and in the future. A teacher can use his autograph, the imprint he leaves on a child, to change a life. The positive words teachers leave inspire children to work harder, to give more, and to always strive to be their better selves.”
And, while I sincerely believe all of that to be true, I think, sometimes, we forget the impact we have on others and the simple fact that our own words matter. It’s easy to point out how other people have brought us up or down, but it’s more difficult to examine when we have a similar impact on others. (After all, I didn’t say to my teammates, “Keep telling me how good I am, it’ll make me even better.” All I did was smile and give high fives and fist bumps – and hope that I would continue to catch everything hit my way. Similarly, in a marathon, I don’t stop when people cheer for me. I never go back to the spectator to say, “Your kind words are helping me through the race.”)
But, sometimes, out of the blue, a word is said, a card arrives in the mail, or an e-mail comes through that reminds us of our impact on others. Again, I think this is especially true for teachers and other educators because our words impact on the people who are the future. By providing support, kindness, affirmation, and even love, educators can help to shape a positive world and a positive future.
I was reminded of this fact just the other day when I received the following message in my e-mail:
I taught this student over three years ago. It wasn’t yesterday…
But my words mattered.
And it was only eight words. Eight. That’s all I wrote. I didn’t write a paragraph. I didn’t write even ten words. I wrote eight. And yet, those words made a difference to this former student. A huge difference. In a way, I helped to change a life. In a bigger way, as this former student becomes a teacher who hopefully spreads kindness and a positive message, those eight words will influence many more people.
This is the power that good can bring. It is the impact of kindness. It is what truly matters.
Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
As educators, our biggest job is helping our students learn to believe in themselves. Our job is to build up others. We need to encourage. We need to support. We need to set the highest standards. We need to be kind. We need to love…
These are the simple elements that truly make a difference.
As we plan lessons, and programs…
As we design assessment tools and grading formulas…
As we create curriculum and input data into on-line programs…
We must never forget that our most important job as educators is to reach the hearts of our students. We must bring passion to our classrooms. We must look to the good.
And we must never forget that our words matter – and as such, we must use them, today and every day, to build others up in a meaningful way.
My book of motivational, inspirational, and (sometimes) funny essays is now available on Amazon and other book retailers.
If you enjoy my blog writing, you will certainly enjoy this book.
The feedback has been tremendously positive.
Please take a look!
I came across a passage that suggested that we should always “maintain a sense of wonder” in our lives. I love the idea of seeking wonder, or magic, in the mundane.
Life isn’t always about the things we have to do, and even when it is, that doesn’t preclude us from seeking the good and something special in every situation. This is important to recognize and acknowledge because there can be good everywhere and at any time. It’s simply about maintaining that sense of wonder.
(This passage comes from my upcoming book of essays, “Impossible is an Illusion” which will be published by Ravenswood Publishers in May 2017.)
There is a Latin phrase that reads, “Crede quod habes, et habes.”
This can be translated as, “Believe that you have it, and you have it.”