I wasn’t always a very optimistic person. In fact, I clearly remember a time in my life when my mother told me over and over to “look on the bright side.” Mom tells me she doesn’t recall that. Which reminds me of a little girl on Oprah whose mother had passed away. The mother knew she was sick and so took her kids on all sorts of trips before she died. Oprah asked the little girl what her favorite memory was of her mom. The little girl said it was one night when the little girl couldn’t sleep, and she and mom went down to the kitchen and ate cheerios. You never know what words or actions are going to have the most impact on another person.
I had a pleasant reminder of this a couple months ago. I had a student who ended up dropping my course. His mother works on the campus on which I teach. I was talking to her one day and asked how her son was doing. She told me how he was enjoying his courses and that even though he dropped my course, “He said you were a really good teacher. And there’s one specific study technique that you showed him that he uses all the time. I don’t understand it really – something about forming a picture in his head and following something.” I laughed saying I can’t recall what I said either. Then, a couple weeks later, I was in lab. Each table of students had a box of bones. I instructed them to find a space on the floor and reconstruct the skeleton. When they finished, I explained, “You’ll know you know this stuff if you can picture the entire skeleton in your head, and be able to tell someone each bone and as you go up the arm, be able to say which bones connect to the next one. Then, do the same thing for your legs. Then connect them to your trunk.” Hmph. There is was. Picture it in your head, follow it along. Who knew words that came to me so naturally, without much thought, could have such an impact?