When I was in high school, I loved piano. My choir director asked me to accompany the choir on a a couple of our songs. I said sure, I’d be happy to, though I had never accompanied before.
I practiced the songs, which were easy enough, at home, but I guess I didn’t practice enough. Or at least I didn’t get the tempo fast enough. Because when I tried to play with the choir, it sounded like they were dragging me along for the ride. I tried to catch up to the beat of the director’s arms, which were flapping furiously, but my fingers just wouldn’t cooperate.
I was embarrassed. But not nearly as embarrassed as by what happened next.
The director walked around behind me to the bass side of the piano, and with one big swoosh, he slid down the bench and bumped me off the other end, closest to the choir. His fingers picked up where mine had failed and led the melody onward. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I join the choir? Should I watch him and try to learn? Should I begin singing? I just stood there, completely humiliated, until the song ended.
Now, I’m not saying I was blameless. I probably didn’t prepare as I should have. Being the very silly, social teenager that I was, I’m sure I wasn’t an absolute joy to have in class. But humiliation did nothing to help me become the serious, capable musician that my teacher wanted me to be.
In fact, though I still love to play the piano, I don’t like to accompany. I get nervous and my fingers don’t do what I want them to. An accompanist is something I will never become.
Curiously, even though I experienced the futility of humiliation as a motivator, I’ve employed it myself! Not with a choir or a classroom, but sadly, with my own kids. Just this week, I said something that shamed and embarrassed one of them. My goal was to elicit responsibility and productivity, but I did just the opposite by piercing and deflating my precious child’s confidence and self worth with a few razor-sharp words. Since then, I’ve tried to heal the wounds with sweet, repentant, kind words. But it will take many, many applications of these healing words to reverse the effects of just a few razor-like ones.
Whether with rash words or actions, we can have such negative influence over others–over what they will become. But, I want to harness the potential of healing words. Especially toward my kids.