Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Dress My Mother Loved.

When I was a child, maybe four or five years old, I was out shopping with my mother when I came across this dress. It was every level of hideous. It had a putrid shade of teal with more sequins and adornments than a Rod Roddy suit. In the center was a genie with these haggard looking fingers escaping from an elongated genie lamp. This freaky looking miscreation was wearing what looked like a pastel turban showcasing a radiant jewel the size of a fist. I don't know who the peasant girl in Vietnam was, but when she sewed up this dress, she was pissed.

But I loved it.

My legs took me dashing over to my mother, where I yelled to her about how much I loved this dress, and in her infinite paternal wisdom, she decided to buy it. Every time she wore that monstrosity I'd be full of vigor and pride. When I would tell her I loved the dress, she'd never secretly dream of calling the fire department and asking them to burn it. She instead would say to me, "Son, I love it too. You've got good taste."

For years I took that compliment with me. As a young second grader, I remember putting on this combination that made me look like an all-inclusive vegetable plate. I had purple, green, yellow, red...every color imaginable in a single outfit. The kids at school looked at me with every variation of shock, awe and bewilderment. But what did I say to myself?
I can wear this, because I have good taste!

My mother, the same one who knew the power of her words with me, had a somewhat similar story. She grew up a singer, one who could never contain her voice because she loved to sing so much. She had a beautiful, genteel tone and sang from a joyous and earnest heart. But one time she was humming a tune at work, and some random bop whose name my mother can't even recall came over to her. This woman said, "Why are you always singing? No one wants to hear that." And then she went on her way.

For three years my mother never sang a song.

Have you ever considered just how powerful your words are? Statements that we make and may immediately forget can stay with a person for days, weeks or in my mother's case...years. Think of how many times in your life someone has said a polite compliment in passing. I can recall time-after-time of people arbitrarily mentioning simple things like, "I wish I had your curly hair", or, "I love reading your writing", and it shapes the decisions I make for months to come! I'll grow out my hair and wear these curls with pride, or I'll go and write five blog posts a day just because I've been told it's worthwhile.

Reversely, how often has somebody with little-to-no influence over your life said a single statement that has made you boldly change your behavior? Someone once told me I didn't look good in collared shirts, and for nearly a year I removed them from my wardrobe. Is it crazy? Yes. It is stupid? Yes. Should we give people that much power over our lives? Of course not. But we do.

Think about it for a moment. Almost every decision you make stems down to the idea that you care about what other people think. From the clothes we wear to the way we decorate our homes, you and I are constantly seeking out approval from every person we come in contact with.

With that thought in your mind, consider for a moment the amount of influence you individually have. While you may not be Barack Obama or Warren Buffet, within your circle of friends or professional network you have people who listen to you and respect you. Why not leverage that for the greater good of these people you care about? Why don't you be the person who says, "Wow, you've got good taste." For the friends you love and hold dear, ask yourself, "When was the last time I told them I loved them? When was the last time I specifically complimented them? When was the last time I made them feel good about themselves?" And then go out to them and do it. Because let me tell you, in a country of recession, war and political strife, everyone could use a little pick me up.

And if done the right way, a simple thing like telling a boy he has good taste will change him and inspire him to believe in himself for years to come.