“Really? You actually put the soap in his mouth?” I asked, slightly horrified.
“Absolutely,” she said with pride. “I don’t put up with foul language in my house.”
As I walked back to my office from the shared kitchen, new tasks and duties pushed this comment from my mind but, apparently, it stuck with me.
Fast forward to anytime you like in the past few months and zero in on Tyler (our four year old) giddily uttering an expletive that my wife or I let slip when, perhaps, we accidentally smashed our toe into a chair (or something like that).
“Tyler,” I say in a tone of reproach, “you know that’s a bad word, so don’t say it.” Usually, as most parents know, this simply causes the little one to repeat the distasteful word that had just elicited some much relished attention. While I want him to know I’m serious, the thought of shoving a bar of soap into his mouth for this offense never enters my mind, for the punishment hardly seems to fit the crime.
Words matter, however, and there are phrases devoid of the profane which do elicit my rage.
“You are stupid.”
Read it again, listen to it. Have you heard it before? Does it haunt you? Does it still sting? Is it the cause of the damaged foundation upon which you’ve had so much trouble building a stable life? I will not have it uttered in my home, ever. To me, it is far worse than profanity. No matter what they do, I constantly tell my children they are brilliant, wonderful, talented and amazing. Let the world tamp down the inflated egos I’ve created — we all know it will do its job well.
As a parent, employer, leader, or mentor, the most generous thing we can do is build up, to tell those we care about they are wonderful, gifted, talented and amazing because, in doing so, we make it so. I got to thinking about this dynamic when preparing for my recent (and soon-to-be-published) interview with Shafiq Rab, M.D., VP/CIO at Hackensack University Medical Center. As part of my research for any interview, I check out the individual’s LinkedIn profile, and sometimes read their “recommendations.” When I did this for Shafiq, I came across the stirring passage below from Jeremy Marut, director of enterprise architecture at Hackensack:
“I’ve learned more about IT leadership and management in general in the last year than I have my whole career. I told (Shafiq) the first time I met him that I wanted his job and he has not let me forget it one day through lessons and coaching … The best part is that I now really know and believe I will have that job one day. I have been blessed to work with this man and am forever grateful for his mentorship. I can only hope everyone gets a chance to work with him one day.”
I was floored. What better testament could one individual offer another? Might acting in a manner that would elicit such words on your behalf be a worthy goal? For my part, I think I will take up the challenge. And if those around me someday say that our interactions made them stronger, happier, and more confident, I will consider this an important ingredient of a life well lived.
It is so easy to focus on the unimportant, to lord over a home where nary a four letter word is uttered in fear of the lash (or the soap), but to what end? Like Shafiq, let’s strive to get the meaningful things right. Let’s strive to make each other feel like we can take on the world, for essentially we must. I’m sure Jeremy would agree.