For the past several days, my family has been tormented by a fly. This fly is just your average everyday housefly, I suppose, except for the fact that it is roughly the size of a small blimp. I have no idea how it found its way into our house, but it has been constantly buzzing around our kitchen, taunting us with its lightning fast reflexes and Usain Bolt-like speed. I offered my son a buck if he could kill it, but despite stalking the fly with a swatter for a good 20 minutes, he’s had no luck. I’m telling you, there’s no way Mr. Myagi or Daniel-san could pull the old chopstick-catching trick on this sucker.
It’s not hurting anything, I suppose, but it is as annoying as hell. It’s driving us all crazy. Which got me thinking: If something as insignificant as a little (or, in this case, big) housefly can have a big enough impact as to annoy a whole family, we human beings, being far more superior in size and (hopefully) intellect, should never, ever doubt our own significance and the impact we can have on one another.
Growing up, I was rather shy, and I was also an introvert. There is actually a difference between the two things, according to author and introversion expert Susan Cain. An introvert is someone who “prefers a quiet, minimally stimulating environment.” Introverts feel drained after spending too much time in loud, crowded places. Shyness, however, is an actual “fear of negative judgment.” While an introvert may come across as a quiet person simply because they prefer quiet environments, shy people may keep quiet because they lack self-esteem and feel their voice is insignificant. It is possible for someone to be a shy extrovert. The two traits are not mutually inclusive.
I am not sure what made me shy as a child, as I certainly had a supportive home life and loving parents who did not treat me as if I were insignificant. I think maybe people are just born with a tendency to be shy, and the more we act that way as children, the more people comment on our shyness. And the more we are told we are shy, the more we come to believe that we are not meant to speak out or act gregariously–and we come to feel that if we do step out of that little quiet box sometimes, we might come across as ridiculous and won’t be taken seriously–ie, the “fear of negative judgment.” So we cling to our shy identity and may even come to believe that our words are insignificant and won’t mean much to anyone else.
This was certainly the case for me, but I can remember a specific incident when that started to change.
I was a kid pretty fresh out of college, and my then boyfriend (now husband) and I had befriended a successful and well-respected couple about 10 years older than us. I really liked them, but I also felt intimidated around them due to what I perceived as their superior social status.
One day, I don’t recall what the impetus was, but I remember that I complimented the husband for something–maybe it was a speech that he gave, something I read about him, I honestly don’t remember what–and he seemed so genuinely grateful for my compliment that I was taken aback. In fact, a few days later his wife commented to me that whatever I said had meant a lot to her husband. It was right then that my eyes opened and I realized not only the power of a compliment, but the impact of my own words; I honestly think it never dawned on me until that moment that all people, no matter how important, popular, respected, or educated they may be, like to hear kind words about themselves, even if those words are coming from someone much younger, inexperienced, less significant, and shy…. like me.
Of course, it goes both ways. If we can impact others with our kind words, we can certainly impact them with negative words. In fact, negative words are more likely to have a bigger, long-lasting impact, no matter who is saying them. As Dr. Phil likes to say, “It takes 1,000 ‘attaboys’ to erase one ‘you’re an idiot’.” Over the years I have certainly said my share of negative things to my kids (and my husband), words that I certainly regret. It’s my sincere hope that I’ve given enough “attaboys” and apologies so that the impact is minimized and my kids are not scarred for life by any careless words I’ve uttered in anger.
But the point is: they could be. It took me a lot of years to really, truly grasp this basic life lesson: Words matter. Actions matter. YOU matter. Whether you’re a fly on the wall or the leader of the free world, you have the ability to have a profound impact on those around you. A sincere compliment from you could turn around someone’s rotten day or even inspire them to change their life. An insulting word spoken in anger could crush someone’s spirit. And thoughtless words that are spoken just for the sake of being heard can be as annoying as that dirty, buzzing housefly. So, use your words. But choose them wisely.