My late father had an old barn on his property. The barn had fallen into disrepair over the decades and appeared on the verge of collapse. Since my father's illness prevented him from demolishing the barn himself, he contacted the Amish in hopes of hiring them to do the job.
"We build things. We don't tear them down," came the curt reply.
My dad thought that was pretty funny (after he got over his initial surprise) and the expression became a family joke. We still roll it out when it's time to disassemble the swimming pool or clean up after a party. The phrase came to mind the other evening when I was conducting a support group at Family Services, but this time it became a plan of action instead of a punch line.
We were discussing ways of talking with our children that would result in them "opening up" rather than "shutting down." One of the guys remarked that it was much more natural to come up with shut-down statements, especially when a child misbehaves. He's absolutely right-it is easier to criticize, gripe, or be sarcastic. It hardly takes any effort at all when one's patience is wearing thin or it's been a long, tiring day. Then it occurred to me: Use words to build up, not to tear down.
We are quick to point out to kids what they're doing wrong, but are we as quick to draw attention to what they're doing right? How often do kids hear that they're loved and cherished? Youth especially need to hear that word of encouragement as they're still building confidence and learning their capabilities. When we do have to correct them (that's in the adult job description, too) let's keep the goal of teaching them how to do the right thing instead of condemning them over what went wrong.
I'm reading the classic text "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas Kempis. I made note of the medieval monk's instruction to his students to "speak of edifying things." Edify means to "instruct especially so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement" (American Heritage Dictionary). This is quite a countercultural approach in a time when words are so frequently carelessly employed.
I'm told that the average person says about 150 words in one minute. That adds up to thousands of words each day. I wonder how many of those words "build things" and how many "tear down"?
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.