“We have to be so careful with our words,” my sweet older brother said to me years ago. And so began a conversation to mend a hurt feeling from a simple misunderstanding.
There have been many such moments in the years since, with others in the family, co-workers and, worst, with children. Children start life open and tender, and these casual moments of distraction and hurt from trusted adults dent them, close them, train them. We can all do better speaking grace to each other. I can do better.
It’s a simple, if not easy, concept, starting with the difference between praise and encouragement. Praise judges — “I like your drawing,” “You look nice.” Encouragement values and affirms — “You finished the whole thing,” “You made your friend feel welcome.” This is where naming the virtues comes in.
Virtues are positive character traits, such as gentleness, enthusiasm, honesty, courage, and more. We can speak criticism – “You’re so stubborn!,” or we can affirm each other ‘s virtues and, in the process, start to see each other more positively too – as in, “I appreciate your determination.”
Is your child taking too long to get dressed, in clothes you don’t prefer? Will you say “Hurry up or I’m leaving you!,” or “I appreciate how you are taking care getting dressed. I do want us to leave on time. Is there something I can do to help?” You’ll both leave whole and calm, no dents.
Extra credit: Try speaking the virtues to yourself. There’s grace for you too.