Pairs Well With… “Words. So powerful. They can crush a heart, or heal it. They can shame a soul, or liberate it. They can shatter dreams, or energize them. They can obstruct connection, or invite it. They can create defenses, or melt them. We have to use words wisely.” – Unknown
In fourth grade, I learned one of the best and most impactful lessons of my life: I learned the power of words and the lasting effects they can have on others. I learned the difference between right and wrong many years prior, but it was with my teacher’s delicate illustration of how words can weigh on or weigh down a heart that got through to me.
How do you teach a child the impact of words?
Upon coming back from recess, our class was instructed to rip a piece of paper out of our notebooks and draw a heart on it. From there, we were told to crinkle up the piece of paper into a ball…
…and then open it back up and try to flatten out the wrinkles to the best of our ability.
Crinkle and smooth out ten more times, noticing the creases with each round and the texture of the paper.
Our tiny child minds were confused and skeptical about what was happening. By the end of the tenth round of paper smashing, we were quiet and looking bewildered at one another. Each of us touched the softened, wrinkled paper, some tracing the heart shape with their pointer finger, and looked to our teacher for answers and insight.
“Take out a brand new sheet of paper and draw a heart on it, but don’t crinkle it,” said my teacher. Set it next to the wrinkled one and compare the two.
What started out as harsh, jagged creases on crisp, solid paper slowly became many thin, but permanent, lines on worn down paper.
“Words are like weapons. They can hurt, and they can leave permanent scars. No matter how hard you try, you will never get your wrinkled piece of paper back to its original condition. It’s impossible. Those creases symbolize mean and hateful words. While they can be overcome and forgiven, they may not be forgotten.”
Thinking back, I don’t know that this lesson was part of any school-approved curriculum. It’s too bad schools don’t teach kindness as a class – they should. This lesson has stuck with me throughout all these years but holds more relevance than ever today both in what we are teaching today’s children and also in how we carry ourselves.
I still have that piece of paper. I’ve chosen to keep it as a memory of kindheartedness I suppose. Maybe, deep down, I knew one day I’d feel compelled to share my fourth-grade kindness lesson.
Our words are our most destructive weapons. They have the potential to leave scars that can’t be removed and creases on the heart that can’t be ironed out.
We have a choice between hurting with them or healing with them.
We can’t always change minds, but we can change hearts. One at a time, we can.
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