Our best lessons often come from our students. During a workshop for young adults with developmental delays, a large heavy-set young man, Lester, said very sadly and earnestly, “But, Irene, I AM fat and ugly! What good words can I say to myself about THAT?”
“Lester, when you look at the moon,” I said, “It is sometimes a skinny moon, and sometimes a half moon, and sometimes a full round moon – but no matter what shape it is, all moons are beautiful. You could throw away the words ‘fat and ugly’ and say to yourself, ‘I’m round like the full moon!'”
So we practiced, with my saying, “You are fat and ugly!” so that Lester could throw these words into the trash and say proudly, “I’m round and beautiful like the full moon!”
Then, for the first time that a student has asked me this question in all my years of teaching, Lester turned to me and asked, “So, Irene, what mean words do YOU say to yourself that you’d like to practice throwing away?”
Startled, I said, “Well, I don’t like my squeaky voice! But what good words could I say to myself about THAT?”
Lester smiled, patted my arm, and explained kindly, “Irene, your voice says things that make people happy.”
At his insistence, I practiced physically throwing away the words, “I hate my squeaky voice!” and telling myself out loud, “My voice says things that make people happy!”
And do you know what? Just as I am always reminding my students, physically practicing what to do and saying the words you need to remember out loud really does help — because I haven’t felt bad about my squeaky voice since!