Monday, March 31, 2008

If Only I Could Eat my Words

I love object lessons. Scouring parenting magazines and Web sources for creative methods to cultivate learning became a pastime shortly after Pumpkindoodle’s birth. One of my favorite illustrations involves toothpaste. Each participant is given a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, a paper plate and one ooey-gooey mission: squeeze the tube dry. After the tubes are flattened, participants receive a tooth pick and are given the daunting task of putting the tooth paste back into the tube. It’s an impossible feat. The lesson? Words are like toothpaste. Once they’re piped out, they cannot return.

Last month, the Professor read through student evaluations from the previous semester. While many students expressed positive feelings about his classes and astuteness, a fair share of malevolent comments remained. The comments were not of the constructive nature, rather petulant, sharp toned, and intended to wound.

My fighter instincts shot into action. I wanted to find those surly students and give them a lesson on manners. I wanted them to understand that the Professor gives his all to his classes and deserves better. I wanted to take away the pained expression worn by my tender husband. I did not want to think about Dr. W. “That was different,” I told myself. “No it wasn’t,” said a voice deep within, "and you need to deal with it."

The image of the kind, shy man with an unkempt appearance and heart for God’s creation stamped my mind. When I was a college sophomore I regarded Dr. W. as an adversary of sorts. He stood between me and a higher G.P.A. (which by the way is meaningless once that diploma is grasped). I needed a science credit and heard that fun times were to be had in environmental biology. But I didn’t get into Dr. Fun’s class. Instead, the mild manner professor who asked tough questions was to instruct me about grassy terrain and various species of algae living in local lakes.

The fact that Dr. W. was so impassioned about his subject infuriated me. Did he honestly think that this communication major who was, in her own mind, destined to be the next Diane Sawyer cared about oats, goats, and banana pokes? I found his teaching methods difficult and dismissed it as his problem. “If he was a good teacher, I’d certainly understand the material,” I rationed.

When time came for me to submit my student evaluation I knew that my grade for the class was a C. This anal-retentive over-achiever felt appalled. Anger bubbled over as I checked the Most Definitely Agree box next to the statement Professor has distracting mannerisms. I followed up the multiple choice portion with terse comments. In my immature mind I accepted no responsibility for my C. Yes, I missed a lot of classes, “but had he not been so boring I would have shown up more often.” No, I didn’t take good notes, “but if he were a better professor I would have.” On and on I rationalized and blamed my woes on Dr. W. Had I even had a smudge of proof, I would have blamed him for every ill in society including poverty, blizzards, and Shepherd’s Pie. At the time, I didn’t feel the slightest guilt regarding my shallow words. “After all, he needs this feedback to better his performance, it’s his job to do well,” I told my friend Joy who shared similar beliefs about the class. Now, I am ashamed.

Oh if only I could go back. If only I could erase those harsh words and replace them with encouragement and constructive suggestions. I don’t know how Dr. W. felt when he read my comments and the disparaging remarks offered by other students, but I cannot image he was edified. In fact, knowing his gentle demeanor, I’d wager that his expression was similar to that of my Professor. A kicked in the gut, stabbed in the back look of anguish, surprise, and confusion. Oh what a powerful weapon is a No. 2 pencil.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. – Ephesians 4: 29, 31.





40 comments:

Corinne said...

That's an amazing post. I think we've all (I know I have) done things I REALLY regret like that. It's hardest when we get a first hand look in someone we love of how our actions might've affected someone. Thank heavens we can always turn to God to make it right and decide to always do better :)

mer said...

Great post. I have a few regrets of a similar nature, and have had to ask God's forgiveness for my quick and harsh words which can never be totally erased.

Mocha with Linda said...

Ex.cel.lent. This is something I so struggle with. I think - HOPE! - I'm doing better. I was raised in a very critical household where it was easy to be judgemental and see what everyone else needed to be doing differently, yet ignoring the beam in our own eyes.

Thanks for the great word of conviction and encouragement.

Jane @ What About Mom? said...

Great post. It's too bad that if often takes something happening to us (or a loved one) before we understand how that something feels.

I read an interesting post recently at http://www.idratherbewriting.com/2008/03/08/deciding-when-to-speak-up-and-when-to-shut-up/

It talked about how sometimes it's good to speak up, and in general said speaking up is better than staying quiet.

I had to disagree with that because I think people have to know themselves. I know I've regretted times when I've spoken up more than times when I've stayed silent, but the writer of that post was a shyer person.

Anyway, I'm really enjoying your blog and the thought you put into your posts!

DKay said...

Oh yeah, we all have these regrets and as someone who is notoriously outspoken, I have them a lot. Luckily since I have matured in age and actions, I have learned to not always take those initial "knee jerk" reactions and let my words fly without thoughts of future remorse.
Great post - it is always a good reminder.

Jenny 865-53oh9 said...

Oh the follies of our youthful tongue. I don't even want to think about the things that I said because I thought it was my right to say it. Very shameful, but like Corinne, I'm thankful that I have a God to turn to and I pray that he takes my scornful words and erases them from the memories of those I can't ask for forgiveness from face to face.

Lisa writes... said...

Okay, I have so done the same thing, with a German-born Abstract Algebra professor who told his class on the first day that we would be lucky to earn a C in his class, "Smart students get C's. Exceptional students get A's." Guess what? I got a C, for nearly all of the same reasons you expressed here: his difficult teaching methods, my resulting class absences, not to mention the heavy German accent. And like you, I blamed him for my C and let it rip on the evaluation.

But I didn't feel guilty about it until I read your post. Gee, thanks...

Seriously, wise words we would do well to heed.

And my favorite line? "oats, goats, and banana pokes"--though I have no idea what a banana poke is, I love it!

A. Magner said...

I am also guilty of a ruthless professor evaluation (or 2). I felt like I really tried to be fair with every evaluation, but I can think of one where my comments were less than constructive. I do believe this professor needed attention for the Dean of the Education department, but being nasty was not the solution to this very sure of himself Education Methods Professor from Bermuda who I don't think prepared once for a class when that was part of what he was supposed to be teaching is us to do.
Anyway, I think your post was great. We do need to think about what we say. I honestly had never thought about that evaluation again until reading your post.

Angela said...

I honestly did not want to invoke guilt from any of my readers...only confess to my own. I promise. :-) Oats, goats and banana pokes exist on some type of terrain some where on this planet. And I don't remember what a banana poke is, but I remember memorizing those three items in that order. Funny that it stayed in my head all these years when so many other things flew the coop. Perhaps I was meant to remember for this post. :-) Thank you for all your sweet comments.

Julie said...

Your heart is SO precious.

You write so beautifully.

Julie

Linda Vujnov said...

I eat crow regularly. God is oh so patient and forgiving.

GrandCanyonMom said...

WOW! This is my favorite post yet! Thank you for your humility.

Ever think of writing Dr. W a letter? It could edify, you know?

I'm very curious now about Shepherd's Pie now.

I loved the closing about the No. 2 pencil. Brilliantly written from start to finish!

Loved the post!
Jaime

Andrea said...

Hmmm, I have the same regrets over comments I made about a prof on my student evaluation. What made it worse was he actually asked some of us to get together with him to discuss the evaluations openly so he could learn from his mistakes. I didn't go because I was too ashamed. Thank you for the reminder about words being unretractable.

Sarah said...

I think those evaluations egg that sort of thing on sometimes. The anonymity causes us to say things we'd never say to someones face :)

Mel's World said...

What a great object lesson...this is actually one of the verses that we have studied with our kids to try and teach them just how important (and deadly) words can be. Thanks for the AWESOME post!

Melissa

WendyJanelle said...

This is an amazing post.
Thank you. The toothpaste object lesson is one I'll have to try soon.
My, oh, my. It's so much easier to dish out than to take, isn't it? And apologizing can't nearly make up or erase all of the careless words I've spoken in my life, especially to those I hold so near and dear.

livin with me said...

Wow. Powerful post. I know I have certainly said things I regretted. I know we all have. Again- wow- this was an excellent post.

Deidre said...

Excellent post! I've used the toothpaste illustration in SS lessons before. More often than I'd like to admit, I've wanted to take back my words/actions.

Joy said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. If you are able, find that teacher, write him a note and let him know you've matured and that he is doing an amazing job. I'm sure that while it may have hurt him, I'm sure he also understood you were angry with the C.

*HUGS* Isn't it amazing the things we realize in retrospect?

At least one good thing has come from this story: you can let the Professor know that some of those students are probably more angry with themselves than with HIM.

At A Hen's Pace said...

Hi! Thanks for letting me know you've been stopping by!

Just today--to strip the wallpaper!--I took down that verse from our wall (the first half). What a convicting one--so often do we speak thoughtlessly and dishearteningly to others. I love the toothpaste analogy too--often wish I could pull those words back and unsay them.

Thank God for grace...

--Jeanne

Changed by His Love said...

Hey! Love your blog, and thanks for stopping by mine! The toothpaste illustration is priceless. Thanks for sharing!

sara said...

I think this post will hit home to most anyone who reads it! Interesting that my BS this morning was on self-control...regarding the tongue. Thanks for sharing this!

Gretchen said...

Stop stepping on my mouth, would you?!!! It hurts.

Guilty.

Lovely post. Great devotional for today. As I told my friend yesterday, who is also looking down both barrels at 40 next year, "Don't you wish we could be wise AND cute?" She was talking about a 20 y.o. employee of her husband's who was just being immature. Even though the Professor and Prof W were wounded, I'm sure, I hope God protected them enough to give grace to those kids. Because we really do make those mistakes in the cuteness of youth. Not that I don't make some now--I've just moved on to different mistakes. :)

Excellent writing.

Tasha said...

Wow, awesome post! Thank you!!!

the160acrewoods said...

okay this one the post below.. both of those I could eat. thanks for posting them.. they mean a lot and taken to heart!
hugs and prayers... (my 3-now 5yearold has an attitude like that)

Tonya said...

What a great reminder to "bridal our tongue." There are so many things that I would do differently if I could only go back... that's reason enough to take EVERY OPPORTUNITY to teach our boys that words DO HURT. Even now, our little ones are learning a Proverb.

Proverb 29:11
A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.


THANKS SO MUCH for sharing the WORD and making it life applicable. =-)

Chris @ Come to the Table said...

The toothpaste lesson provides such a powerful visual of our "words". I think as I brush my teeth, I will be thinking about the words that proceed from my mouth throughout the day.

Katie said...

Wow! What a great post! So convicting!! Thank you for stopping by my blog today! I have enjoyed looking around your blog, and will be saving it in my reader! It looks like you have a great blog! I am definitly going to use that toothpaste demo with my kids! I have heard of it before, but never thought to use it with them! Thanks for the idea!

Katie

Tiffany Stuart said...

I love visuals too. I used this scripture in Ephesians after my closest friend dumped me because of my critical spirit. A hard lesson.

A side note: Thank you for visiting my blog again and for your sweet encouragement. And your added "what breaks your heart" thoughts. My list is long so I wrote just a few.

PS GOD is amazing, not me. I want to credit the one who does the work in me. I know me. I've wandered and I've fallen. God is strong in my weakness.

I look forward to more connections with you.

Sarah Markley said...

Great post and a great lesson!

Shonda said...

This is a great post. Yesterday I felt led to Ecc. 5:2. Today I read this post. I think the Lord is speaking to me.

Blessings in Christ-

SaraLynn said...

This is wonderful. We all need to watch, not only what we say, but how we say it. Me included.
Thanks for sharing

Tiffany said...

Okay wow, I came by to say hi and this post....kicked ME in the gut. This was amazing and so insightful. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Susanne said...

What an excellent post! Our words certainly do have power.

Thanks for coming by my site and leaving a comment. Have fun with the hair!

CC said...

Oh boy. You know ONE negative comment during my brief career as an SAT tutor sent me packing. Okay, it's true I don't have thick skin. But words are very powerful. I always give my professors at least mediocre reviews, even if I really didn't like the class. I just feel bad otherwise.

My cup runneth over... said...

What an incredibly powerful post and how beautifully you illustrate the power of our words. Like others have suggested, I'd try writing him him a letter. Imagine how that would touch his heart.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your sweet comment about loving Springtime too!

Your blog looks beautiful!

Mocha with Linda said...

Oh, the blog makeover turned out beautifully!!! Love it! The roses remind me of my wedding.

Beloved MaMa™ said...

thank you so much for praying for the requests!!! you have a beautiful blog.

Linda said...

Thank you for this very vulnerable, transparent post. That is honesty, and I can relate to your story here. I have often regretted words that came out of my immature mouth. Great post.

Beloved MaMa™ said...

Thank you so much for praying!!!!!!! Be blessed my friend...I've added you to my "blogs I like to visit"

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