“You’re doing well. You’re doing good things, with and for your children.” A friend called me last week, and although I missed the call, she left a voicemail that said just that, among other things. She has seen me struggle with homeschooling, with trying to figure out what is best to do, with trying to even make a decision I can live with. Do I have to tell you how much power her words carried? I don’t know about you, but other people’s words—the true, heartfelt ones—have the power to lift me up and carry me a lot farther than I can go on my own power.
When I’m teaching violin, my job is not to stroke egos; it is to help children learn to do something to the very best of their ability. My attention goes automatically to what needs fixing, what needs to get better. But one of the wonderful things about the Suzuki Method is the emphasis on an encouraging environment. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I read once about somebody criticizing Suzuki for praising a child who had just played terribly. Suzuki pointed out that he had not, in fact, praised the child for the way he had played. He had said, “Good! You played!” Sometimes that’s where you have to start. But the discipline of seeing what is good, and pointing it out to the student before going on to the hard work, is invaluable. “Wow, your sound is really strong and clear today! You can make it even better by making sure all those Ds are perfectly in tune,” is profoundly different from saying, “That was out of tune. All your Ds were flat.” It’s not about flattery, it’s about showing the person where they succeeded, and then giving them what they need—the knowledge, or strength, or whatever—to do the hard work ahead.
Over and over again, I come back to the realization that this is something I need to keep working on, this seeing and acknowledging—out loud—what is good. It has always seemed easier to keep quiet. But if I have the power to speak into other people’s lives the way people have spoken into mine and I stay silent, I’m missing the opportunity of a lifetime.