A frightening conclusion

IMG_1634When I began teaching, I ran across the following quote from Haim G. Ginott, an Israeli-born school teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist and a parent educator.

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.

In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

― Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers 

This was my mantra for teaching.  I ALWAYS had a copy of it near, and would refer to it often.

This was me at a Christmas program for my third grade students in 2013.  They had just surprised me with an unexpected and generous gift.
This was me at a Christmas program for my third grade students in 2013. They had just surprised me with an unexpected and generous gift.

I not only believed the statement, but I experienced it to be true.  I wish I could say that I made all my students’ lives joyous, but that is not the case.  I know there were days and times that I made life miserable for them, and possibly even hurt them.

When I read the quote, I referenced it to life in the classroom, but it really has applications to all of us.  This is why, when I took personal things to decorate my office in my new job, it was the first thing I hung on the wall.

As I ponder on my career change to a reporter/writer/journalist, I have come to another frightening conclusion.  My personal approach to writing helps create the climate of my community.

I realize I have tremendous power in my fingers as they pound on the keyboard each day.   I can make someone’s life miserable or joyous.  I am certain that I have already done both.

It reminds me when I first got my driver’s license at 16, and was finally able to drive alone and unsupervised in a car.  I will never forget the feeling I had when I sat behind in the driver’s seat.  I gripped the wheel at 10 and 2 (like I had been taught) and felt a surge of power rush through me.  It suddenly dawned on me that this machine could actually kill someone if not used properly.  I almost got out, scared, and not wanting to drive anymore.  I didn’t take it lightly.

This writing power I now posses I don’t take lightly either.  The stories I most enjoy writing are about people’s lives, their struggles and their triumphs.

I’ve had the privilege of writing about a single mother with a teenage son who has cerebral palsy.  Her friends encouraged her to start a GoFundMe to purchase a special wheelchair/bike for his 18th birthday.  About two weeks after the article ran, the GoFundMe account goal had been reached.  He is getting the special bike.

I’ve had the honor of writing about a family who has endured the loss of a son, but instead of becoming bitter, have made it better for others.  They give a scholarship in his name every year.  I knew this family personally and was a witness to the shock, grief and subsequent trials they went through.  The fundraiser that was this past weekend raised almost double what it has ever raised.

I’ve written about the inspiring story of a senior citizen who earned her high school diploma, hoping others realize that it’s never too late to pursue a goal.

These stories are powerful and have the ability to inspire others to greatness.  I am humbled that I get to share them, because people are entrusting me to be their voice.  Once they allow me to interview them, they no longer have control of that voice.   I have the power to humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.

Of course, bad things happen in my community as well, which I have to report on.  In these situations, I try not to sensationalize anything, but always tell the truth.  My response can sometimes determine whether the situation will be escalated or de-escalated.

How about you, on your job,or as a parent?  Can you use Ginott’s quote to make your workplace or your home an enjoyable place to be?  Is your daily mood creating sunshine or a rainy day?

5 thoughts on “A frightening conclusion

  1. The late feminist theologian Nelle Morton wrote about “hearing into speech.” She observed that often the listening precedes the speaking — not, as we often assume, the other way round. We find words to speak because people are listening to us, hearing us into speech. The same goes for writing. Knowing there’s an audience listening for our words makes it easier. Journalists in particular are audience as well as writers: they make it possible for others to speak and be heard. It’s very important work.

      1. Here are Nelle Morton’s own words. I love them. She’s just recounted a story in which this happens. “This woman was saying, and I had experienced, a depth hearing that takes place before the speaking — a hearing that is far more than acute listening. A hearing engaged in by the whole body that evokes speech — a new speech — a new creation. The woman had been heard to her own speech.”
        Nelle Morton, “Beloved Image,” in The Journey Is Home (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), pp. 127–128.

  2. I love to see that you are doing so much great writing – on your blog and elsewhere. You are definitely a positive influence in how you approach your job. Funny, I am working on the same thing right now – intentionally setting a positive climate in my home. Thanks for sharing!

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