After five weeks away, I’m back helping out teaching music to kids at Children Day’s School. At lunchtime, a 7th grader who I did a few classes with back in October came up to me. “Remember you said I had potential?” he said with a smile. I answered, “You’re Levi, yes? Absolutely! Are you doing anything with it!” All his friends around him chimed in “No!”, as 7th grade friends would. “Well, don’t wait too long!”
This was the boy who in the very first class I taught was singing too loud and kind of fooling around, but when I invited them to dance, had some great moves. I stopped the class and said, “Wow! I didn’t get to watch everyone, but there was one of you in particular who really impressed me with his style and energy.” In the silly way I do, I dramatically went around the circle and then stopped in front of this boy Levi. “Can everyone copy his motion”?
At the end of class, I called him aside and asked if he was studying any music and dance outside of class. He said no and I told him, “Well consider it. You have great potential.”
And he remembered that. Six months later. I imagine many adults— and peers— are often yelling at him to stop doing this and stop doing that, but here I was telling him that this energy was not bad, just needed to be funneled into artful expression. It obviously made an impression. Not that he’s suddenly taking hip-hop dance classes or taking up an instrument, but that an adult blessed him with the thought that he might be better than he thought he was.
Don’t we all need that? Don’t we remember the adults— a special teacher or aunt or uncle or sometimes even a stranger at a bus stop— who said something that made us feel seen or known, even beyond what we could see or know in ourselves? Dear reader, take a moment to think of the people in your life who gave you that gift and take a moment to thank them. Maybe even call them or write them a note if they’re still on the planet.
This kind of praise and blessing is as essential to us as bread and water. It doesn’t come from Facebook telling us “we value your memories” or the guy on stage yelling “I love you all!” or the fake scripted “I like the way you put your pencil away without breaking it.” It doesn’t come from a quota system where you make sure each person in the circle is praised exactly the same amount for the same amount of time, worried that someone might feel left out. It certainly doesn’t come from multiple-choice pre-written computer comments on the report card.
To praise authentically, you first have to be aware of what is praiseworthy. Little artistic breakthroughs, acts of kindness, efforts above and beyond the call of duty. You have to constantly watch the children, alert to the moment when the right word is needed and take the time to give it. It can—and should— come side-by-side with a challenge. “I see this in you. This is what you need to do to have it fully blossom. Are you up to it? If you make the commitment, I’ll help you and when you go beyond where I can go, I’ll help you find the next helper.” Sometimes it’s just hanging out together and sharing enthusiasms— books you love for the aspiring writer, music you love for the up and coming musician and so on.
Most likely, it comes from people who themselves have been blessed and thus, have a model of how that can change people’s lives. Which means that if you start to practice the art of blessing, you send forth ripples in the pond that will continue to echo into the future and affect people who you will never meet, blessed by the person you blessed.
It’s also possible that you learned the absolute need for such praise by the absence of it in your life and your determination to stop the chain of refusing to see, value or know others and tell them about it. A teacher I know who gave the gifts of blessing to her students for over 35 years was recently celebrated at a retirement party. Her mother attended and witnessed all the love and appreciation this teacher inspired. When she asked her Mom at the end, “Well, what did you think?” the response was, “Well, the snacks were good.”
As she told me this story, I could feel the pain in her voice. Over 70 years old, she was still hoping for her mother’s blessing and more than a little bit heartbroken that it was not there. It should have been. It should have been. And perhaps never was for her mother, so the neglect kept moving down the generations. Until the teacher put up a Stop sign and turned it around for her own daughter and her own students. It’s possible.
Having thought of who blessed you in your life, think of who you blessed in the next generation. And keep going. It’s never too late.