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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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.

This is the first part in a series on education. Part two explores the value in multiple intelligences. Part three talks about our natural ability to learn.

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  1. Donna says:

    This is exactly why I decided to homeschool my two youngest children…who were not so young when I withdrew them from public school at the ages of 15 and 16.  Some days I could almost SEE their once lively spirits gasping for breath.  Despite my fear that I would somehow damage them by doing this.  That was two years ago.  They both still have many discoveries to make, and many wounds to heal.  But I no longer worry that they will be …crushed.

    Thank you for this today Ian…it was just the message I needed on this beautiful Spring Monday.  Namaste. 

  2. ian says:

    Awesome Donna- it takes a lot of courage to make that choice. You sound like an awesome Mom

  3. Anonymous says:

    Words can  hurt more deeply than one will ever know, so we all have to think before we speak, pause before we send an  email, hesitate on the telephone before answering a question, re read a text before sending, re read a tweet before tweeting, an off the cuff remark can damage someone for life!
    Thanks for sharing this article Ian, its hard being a free spirit and not following the herd!

  4. Anonymous says:

    This was extremely powerful for me. The message is at once personal, and universal.

  5. […] is part two in a series on education. Part one talks about the power of […]

  6. Ema says:

    Absolutely true and beautiful. I too am still recovering from childhood hurtful words with my own therapy and am already in my 30’s! It is a soul strengthening challenge for us all to learn mindfull speaking.

  7. Elena Philp says:

    Thank you Ian for an insightful lesson on the power of words-to destroy or to heal.  Tragically some never get to experience the balm of healing, loving words before it’s too late. Suicide statistics and crammed jails are painful (and shameful) evidence of this. May a tsunami of love overwhelm the damage.

  8. […] is part three in a series on education. Part one gives a personal story about the power of words. Part two talks about diverse […]

  9. ian says:

    thank you Elena- nice to hear from you. I hope all is well for you.

  10. ian says:

    Keep going Ema, its worth the hard work. Thanks for who you are.

  11. John Pearce says:

    Words matter.  Emotionally, as you say. But also educationally. Hart & Risley showed that the biggest factor in how well children do in schools is the number of words spoken to them from 0-3 years, and the proportion of those words that are positive or negative.  Talking positively to your child can be worth 20-30 points of IQ at age 3.  (Apart of course from making them feel loved, cherished, cared for and respected)  That foundation of good talking also helps give children an internal self reference, so that they build resilience aginst the put-downs they will face in day to day life.   Thanks for a good Soul Seed, John

  12. ian says:

    Interesting John, thanks for sharing the info

  13. Victor says:

    Thanks for sharing.  Very true words!

  14. wonderful post, thank you for being who you are out loud…giving so much.  Have just linked on my blog, in todays post. x

  15. Nin says:

    Thank You Ian. I Am Deeply Commited In This.. Been There. In The Footprints. Important Cause. Important Changes To Do. For Teachers And Parents I Can Recommend To Listen To Dr Ross Green(Youtube). We Need To Expand And Evolve And Make Room For Different Kind Of Flowers And Stars. To Blossom And Shine.  Much Love  From The Woods In Sweden, Nin X.

  16. Carol Shimp says:

    Thank you Ian, to this day I still fight the negative influence words have on me. The feeling takes me so far down in my dark hole. It has always been about my spiritual connections and why I hold back from talking to people. Off the subject, omit the Para and everything is normal. Blessings

  17. Rich says:

    Beautiful article, Ian. Words have power but we each have more… if we only knew when we were young. When the words go round and round in our heads as they do, it’s a sign that they need to be healed. Sending you love and gratitude.

  18. Rene says:

    I wish I could pass this message on to my father in law, who constantly causes pain to my children/his grandchildren through his words and actions, one child in particular he just doesn’t get….oblivious to his words and always acting as an “expert” in his own mind.  It’s seems impossible to shield the my children from him. 

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this.  I feel the hurt often from words that I experienced as a child, and now as a parent of a 2yr old I try to be as careful as I can with mine to her.  

  20. […] is part two in a series on education. Part one talks about the power of words. Part three talks about our natural ability to […]

  21. […] Soulseeds – more inspirational, thought provoking post from Ian                             “Words have the power of life and death” […]

  22. Jenny says:

    Dear Ian, I have a habit of reading your posts just before signing off.  I suppose it’s like eating a dessert after a meal.  In order to feel emotionally/mentally satisfied, I need something good to think about.  That’s not to say that your writing is all sugar and spice and everything fluffy and nice, because it’s rich and full of nutrients.  It’s like the healthy stuff we need to move our lives into the light.
    I am homeschooling our son Elliot, whose spirit was beginning to be squashed as early as first grade.  Now, even though he isn’t writing at grade level, he has started a service project to help homeless in our area.  There’s more value in that lesson than spelling, and even more importantly, he is happy and confident.
    On the flip side, I struggle in my relationship with his father, my husband, who was taught to survive against a torrent of negativity.  It’s still in his language and his method.  Elliot has two parents almost like Zeus and Hera.  So I pray for peace, for light, for positive words to be heard.

  23. Suicide rates are rising fast. We need to speak more about this. eople are using it for a cure. They don’t want to die. They just want to stop the pain.  Help them.  We need to help them. whywhisper.net. see blog.

  24. Kathryn says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, it always good for me to  feel connected to and with others who really do understand the complexities of living in a society that doesn’t always want to see. My own experiences of a  feeling suicidal as teenager was some of the darkest days of my life, they have never left me, but in some senses have often guided me. I often wrote on scraps of paper as a way of externalizing the internal pain but the shame never enabled me to share them. Sometimes having the the feeling of exit was my only relief. Its not easy being human, whether young or old.. we all have out thresholds, but  children really do need unconditional love,  support and protecting (thinking of education systems failing to protect and tackle bullying). Talking about suicide is the only way to tackle such issues bring it into everyones conscious awareness. Kathryn.

  25. Jo says:

    Dear Kathryn, Please know that your life can change in a minute, for the better. I know the cloud that hangs and always offers a way out of the pain, but the illussion of relief is a lie. Like a beautiful rose that dies in autumn, lives again in spring.  There is so much life to live, so many sunrises to enjoy, and the pain cannot stop the sun from shining. It will shine, no matter how you feel. Keep sharing the wonderful awareness, pass it forward and there is how you get out of it. “Give grief a voice” and it will not defeat you. Only secrets defeat us. God Bless.

  26. Jasna Sever says:

    I know ,WORDS,have magic power.Words are very important part of consciousness.Words  have power of one stimulans,when they are kind and without inappropropriate  comments.Inappropriate  words have the power of death.
    Since I was a child,I never want to hurt people with words or on some other way.I was pacifist since I know for myself.It was for me always incoprehensible, why so many people used words to hurt someone. I met children who have enjoyed when they hurt someone even in kindergarten,later in school too . I met wonderful teachers who stimulated me and two teachers who totaly de-stimulated me and other too because of their poor knowledge and because of their cruel words.Later I met on work people who enjoyed when they hurted  someone with words and even stolen money .With their lies about other they even have  become better position .It was very sad because managers were with them too and always offered support to them.
     Three years ago were two people,couple,who are both  lawyer so cruel to my old aunt that their words were enough for her death.

  27. iva says:

    i knew i was dying in the schools, they had no empathy or respect for an individual, they wanted to keep their jobs, wanted to subjugate, they forced you , be little you, have you looked down upon so you’d give in to their jeers. they do not promote any growth in spirit, only academic only to fit in with a dead system. Family.. family as well. well meaning but ignorant or denial of the misery of their children and brush it off as laziness or condemn you to failure.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Ian

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