In Others’ Words: Remember

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou, author & poet

There was a boy in my class in elementary school. John. John M. Everyone teased John M. I don’t know why John M. was selected to be the boy to be picked on — but somehow he earned that position.

During my elementary school years, I endured my share of teasing and taunts, like all kids do. At times I felt I received more than my fair share. (Does life ever seem fair when you’re in elementary school?) So I don’t know why I also teased John M. After all, I knew how it felt. I could try to excuse my actions by saying, “At least I wasn’t one of those kids that teased John M. all the time …”

But it still stands that I teased John M. — even if it was only one time. I don’t remember what I said. I don’t remember what I did. And, according to the oh-so-wise Maya Angelou, John M. probably doesn’t remember what I said or did either. But he more than likely remembers how I made him feel.

And for that I wish I had the chance to tell John M. I am so, so sorry.

That old kids’ rhyme that goes “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” — who made that up? Some kid trying to be brave in the face of being teased? Because it’s just not so. Words can bruise a person’s soul.

In Your Words: How have you found Maya Angelou’s observation to be true — that you never forget how someone made you feel? I shared a negative take on this, but this could also be looked at in a positive way too. Our decision to affirm someone, to encourage someone is never forgotten. Do you believe this? Has this been true in your own life?


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  1. December 9, 2011, 6:50 am   /  Reply

    Oh, Beth, I had a John M in my class, too. Only it was a little girl and like you I wish I could apologize! I am so glad that God can take even the bad things we do and use them to change us. I believe He used the look of hurt on her face to wake my conscience because I don’t remember ever being ugly to someone on purpose after that. And over the years, I have become an encourager. I also use that incident in schools when I talk about bullying–that not only is the person being bullied hurt, but the bully is as well. What I did that day has stayed with me for over 50 years. I am so thankful that God forgives us and remembers no more our sins!

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 8:37 am   /  Reply

      I appreciate your input. Even more, I so appreciate how you talk in schools about bullying–such a tragic problem these days. The internet allows bullying to know no boundaries. And, yes, we can let our past actions change us for the better.

  2. December 9, 2011, 7:01 am   /  Reply

    I remember in 6th grade a boy told me I needed to shave my legs & I was shocked & offended that he noticed. Worse, in 4th grade, before I was a Chris. and when things were plenty rough at home, a boy of a minority race who lived in tenements joined our class. He got lice and we all had to endure treatment. I have no clue what his “offense” was, but though he was good size, one day I dropped him and sat on him. He wasn’t a bully–I sensed almost a resignation that life would always be that way for him. I don’t know what became of him, but I’ve felt truly bad about that ever since and have tried to go the extra mile to avoid repeating anything close to similar behavior. I didn’t get in trouble either–maybe teacher, who I believe was in classroom, didn’t see?

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 8:40 am   /  Reply

      As you so honestly show us, we all experience hurt … and we all have probably hurt others. The question on both sides is “why?”
      And, yes, where was the teacher? Did she see it? And if she did, why didn’t she deal with it?
      When one of my children was teased in school, the teacher dealt with it saying, “No one in my class will be treated like that.”

      • December 9, 2011, 10:01 am   /  Reply

        Good for that teacher! And that’s exactly what the principal did when I picked on the girl in my class.

        • Beth Vogt
          December 9, 2011, 10:23 am   /  Reply

          The influence of a teacher (or principal): powerful.

  3. Jeanne T
    December 9, 2011, 7:13 am   /  Reply

    As soon as I read your post, I resonated both with John, and with you. I was John M. in elementary school, and the thoughts and feelings from those years affected every aspect of my life. I also took your role in junior high school. I will always regret those taunts and meanness I directed at a certain girl.

    I am thankful for the opportunity now to speak life-giving words and to choose to make others feel good, rather than small. Maya Angelou’s words ring of truth. Looking for ways today to make others (especially my kids) have good memories of how they felt this day.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 8:41 am   /  Reply

      I think sometimes if we’ve been teased/bullied, it feels good to finally be able to be the one in control — the one doing the teasing.
      And knowing you now, I’ve never heard an unkind word from you.

  4. December 9, 2011, 7:56 am   /  Reply

    I’ve definitely found this to be true, although sometimes I do remember what was said and done as well–sometimes that’s a detriment, sometimes it’s encouragement. (I was also one of those kids who was teased…and I totally agree about the Sticks & Stones saying.)

    I remember feeling generally supported by a few of my friends when my husband and I were both going through grad school. I know I was stressed, but being around my friends helped me to feel better.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 8:43 am   /  Reply

      I do remember things that have been said about me (both good and bad) — but even more, I do remember how others make me feel. And I’ve learned to choose to be friends with those people who love and respect me. And I also choose to treat others with love and respect too — and to apologize when I don’t.

  5. December 9, 2011, 7:56 am   /  Reply

    I am really living directly into the heart of this…or at least I aim to. I biff up what I want to say a decent amount and I can be spontaneous or goofy or overly honest…but I pray I come from a humble place, am quick to say sorry, and spend a lot of time investing in others–truly getting to know them and their stories.
    ~ Wendy

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 8:44 am   /  Reply

      You are an encourager.
      That is most definitely true.

  6. December 9, 2011, 8:30 am   /  Reply

    I agree with you that the “sticks and stones” quote is ridiculous! I can think of specific times when I know I probably-definitely did not make someone feel good…it still sticks with me and bugs me. And apologies are good, but that feeling can linger past the “I’m sorry.” I know it has when I’ve been on the receiving end.

    But like you said, there’s a positive side. There are certain people who always, always make me feel treasured…I love that and want to be that to others!

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 8:45 am   /  Reply

      Yes, the positive side of this quote shouldn’t be overlooked: We can treat someone in a loving, respectful, encouraging way — and they won’t forget that!

  7. December 9, 2011, 9:37 am   /  Reply

    Emotions are powerful. We remember those who’ve evoked strong ones in us, whether positive or negative. My mother-in-love blessed me beyond belief when she used her last spoken words in the days before she lost her battle with breast cancer to shower me with love. Her last utterance was “I love you, Keli,” garbled words spoken so softly my husband had to tell me what she’d said. I was overcome. She knew me well and knew how much I craved a mother’s love at that point in my life, and she gave me that gift. Every time I recall that experience and think about my name being the last word to pass her lips, I experience a flood of feeling all over again. It’s as though she’s reaching down from Heaven and giving me a hug.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 10:23 am   /  Reply

      How powerful, Keli.
      Your mother-in-love blessed you in such a beautiful, life-changing way.
      Thank you for sharing this.

  8. December 9, 2011, 12:00 pm   /  Reply

    Priceless quote, Beth. I’m pasting that one to my tongue as I type this.

    I won’t take up your pretty blogspace listing proof, but suffice to say I know all too well the power of the tongue, both for good and for evil. It amazes me that I am so capable of both. May we never let a day pass we are not in holy awe of the nuclear power our tongues have to either tear down or build up another soul, and may we choose each word with utmost care.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 1:27 pm   /  Reply

      “the nuclear power of our tongue …”
      Oh, that is well said, Camille.
      Well said.
      And, yes, may we choose each word with the utmost care.

  9. December 9, 2011, 1:06 pm   /  Reply

    Beth– I love this wisdom today! I definitely think that this could go both ways. Like you, I can think of negative experiences that have happened to me, but I hope there are plenty of positive ones that happen because of me. I used to be horrible about judging people on first impressions, and I’ve been working for years not to do that. I’m much better now–and quotes like this one make me remember why I want to be better.
    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Beth Vogt
      December 9, 2011, 1:28 pm   /  Reply

      It’s obvious this quot was a good reminder for me too. I loved the wisdom of Maya Angelou.

  10. Patti Mallett
    December 10, 2011, 10:50 pm   /  Reply

    Thanks for this reminder, Beth, to take the time to say those few words that might make someone’s day, that might warm them up a bit when the world around them gets to feeling chilly.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 11, 2011, 9:03 am   /  Reply

      Sometimes the lesson is learned the hard way.
      Then again, sometimes the lesson is learned the nicest way possible–when someone speaks kindly to you.

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