He always wanted to explain things. But no one cared. So he drew.
He wanted to carve it in stone or write it in the sky.
And it would BE the sky and things inside him that needed saying.
It was a beautiful picture.
He kept it under his pillow and would let no one see it.
He would look at it every night and think about it.
And when it was dark, and his eyes were closed, he could still see it.
And it was all of him. And he loved it.
When he started school he brought it with him.
Not to show anyone, but just to have it with him like a friend.
It was funny at school. He sat in a square, brown desk.
Like all the other square, brown desks.
And his room was a square brown room.
Like all the other rooms. And it was tight and close. And stiff.
He hated to hold the pencil and chalk, with his arm stiff and his feet flat on the floor, Stiff.
With the teacher watching and watching. The teacher came and spoke to him.
She told him to wear a tie like all the other boys. He said he didn’t like them.
She said it didn’t matter. After that they drew.
And he drew all yellow and it was the way he felt about morning. And it was beautiful.
The teacher came and smiled at him.
“What’s this?” she said. “Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing? Isn’t it lovely?”
After that his mother bought him a tie. And he started drawing airplanes and rocket ships like everyone else.
And he threw the old picture away.
He lay alone looking at the sky, it was big and blue and all of everything.
But he wasn’t anymore. He was square inside and brown
And his hands were stiff. And he was like everyone else.
And the things inside him that needed saying didn’t anymore.
It had stopped pushing. It was crushed. Stiff. Like everything else.
This poem was written by a 14 year old boy. He gave it to his English teacher then committed suicide 2 weeks later.
So many people have their spirits crushed by institutions; whether it’s a school, a corporation, a religion or even a family. The pressure to conform crushes spirits. The stifling of individuality and creativity crushes spirits. The expectation that everyone follows the same path crushes spirits. Comparisons crush spirits. Critical words crush spirits.
Words hurt. Critical, condescending words bury deep inside children and haunt them for years, if not life. I don’t know how serious my suicidal thoughts were when I was a teenager, but I certainly had some dark years. When I was 14, my geography teacher gave me a “zero” on a paper and wrote the words in large bold letters, “ABSOLUTE GARBAGE”. My parents arranged a visit to the Principle to ask how a zero could be given. He straightaway asked if I was using drugs. My parents said, “Our son’s grades have nothing to do with his drug use.” Kidding of course!!!! The point is that he needed to make it my fault. He took no responsibility nor did the teacher. They offered no support, no hope and no encouragement.
The words haunt me. Another teacher told me that I should never do anything in my life that involved public speaking. I had to work hard to overcome those words.
My school experience left me with two conflicting and lingering thoughts.
- No one is going to tell me what I can and can’t do with my life. I had to overcome many barriers to become a public speaker. The first of these was the critical voice of a high school teacher. (Nb geography never became a strength- thank goodness for google maps)
- Words are powerful. We ALL have a heavy responsibility in the way we speak to kids; parents, teachers, all adults alike. We can either encourage kids to claim their power and live their true life, or we can keep therapists busy helping people overcome damaging words from the past.
Thich Nhat Hanh offers this awesome statement about using loving words-
Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, I am committed to speaking truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence.
Ask yourself some pointed questions before speaking:
Are my thoughts kind?
Will these words build the other person up or discourage them?
Will my words make the world a more loving place?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then silence is a better option.
Words have the power of life and death. Choose life. Choose love. Choose encouragement.