In my last post I talked about being kind on the dance floor even when you are feeling offended. Today I wanted to give an illustration of how powerful your offhand words can be.
When I was regularly attending the Herrang dance camp in Sweden, I used to take a detour during the third week to go to a ten day camp in Norway. They were trying to model it after the truly international Swedish camp which boasts attendance from more than 50 different countries, but it was really more like 200 Norwegians, a couple of Swiss Germans, and me. But they spoke English whenever I walked into the room, and it’s size created an intimacy that was different from the huge camp in Sweden.
There was a young woman there who assisted in some of the classes. She was a good dancer and had a good eye for what wasn’t working when people needed help. One year when I arrived and saw her, I greeted her and asked how she was. “I’m teaching dance with my boyfriend,” she said. “ I’m in a great relationship and I’m really doing what I love. My life is amazing and I owe it all to you!”
I had no idea what she was talking about. I had nothing to do with the positive changes in her life. I didn’t even know what she had been doing for a living before. “Me!?” I said. “What did I do?”
“Well, last year I told you I wanted to teach dance and I asked you if you thought I was a good teacher,” she explained. “You said I was and that you didn’t see any reason I shouldn’t teach if I wanted to. You told me if I was passionate about it, it was the right path for me because I had the talent to back it up.”
I didn’t even remember this conversation, but it sounded like something I would have said. She certainly didn’t owe it all to me, especially the boyfriend part. I didn’t even know him. She took the initiative and made it happen herself. But she respected my opinion and my words of encouragement were the inspiration she needed to take the risk to invest in herself. It was such an easy thing to contribute and it made such a huge difference to her.
If she hadn’t been a good teacher, I would still have told her to pursue her dream, but I would have suggested she first work on her teaching skills. It’s important to be honest when people ask for your advice, as well as to be as encouraging as you can be without sacrificing your integrity. This was a dance example, but of course it applies to anything in which you are an expert and are in a position to mentor others.
Words are amazingly powerful. You never know how yours will affect someone else, but if you do your best to be both honest and kind, your can’t go wrong. Oh, yes, and forgive yourself when you don’t always measure up to these fine ideals. It has been said that I don’t suffer fools easily and I’ve been known to let a snarky remake leave my lips before I can catch it. Oops. Do the best you can and be as gentle with yourself as you strive to be with others.
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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