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Words to last a lifetime

We live up to the labels people give us - which is why we try to compliment our Girls' Brigade on their abilities and talents, not appearance, writes Sally Claydon

I think the childhood rhyme of ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is way off the mark. Although at its heart its aim is to encourage children not to retaliate to physical bullying, the implication that words are not able to inflict hurt is just not true.

Following a series of cruel Twitter comments Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington broke down on TV as she shared her subsequent insecurities over her appearance. My own dear Mum experienced a lifetime of yoyo dieting after being told she was fat as a child. Words are powerful indeed to hurt as well as to heal.

It has made me think carefully about the words that we use with our Girls’ Brigade girls. I’ve encouraged my team to be positive, loving and caring at all times. Of course you would hope that this goes without saying in a Christian environment such as our girls-only GB group.  But we’ve taken things a step further and tried to refrain from commenting on the girls’ appearance when we see them. This is harder than it sounds. It comes so naturally to comment on a new haircut, a pretty pair of shoes or the fully made up face of one of our 13 pluses. So why wouldn’t we give the girls a compliment? It may sound like a strange plan.

The idea is that we want to compliment the girls’ skills, abilities and talents rather than their physical looks. I think that as human beings we tend to live up to the labels people give us. If we’re labelled as lazy then that’s what we become. If we’re labelled as a nuisance or shy or trouble then that’s what we become too.

So at Girls’ Brigade we like to give our girls positive labels such as helpful, creative, good at listening…and, low and behold, the helpful girl is washing up without being asked, the creative girl is developing leaps and bounds in her talents and a recent guest speaker was astonished by 40 Junior girls, aged seven to 11, sitting and listening so beautifully. 

My favourite movie quote is from Aibileen Clark in The Help – a domestic maid with responsibility for an emotionally neglected child. She drums into the little girl the words ‘You is kind. You is smart. You is important.’

As we ponder Nelson Mandela’s legacy I’m challenged to make sure that our girls remember me as someone who spoke positive words of love and encouragement, challenging them to go out and make a difference in this world. 

Sally Claydon is Girls’ Brigade team leader at 1st Hawkwell group and a GB Development Worker in London, based at Hawkwell Baptist Church, Rochford, Essex. She is writing a regular column about the Girls’ Brigade for The Baptist Times.

Baptist Times, 23/12/2013
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