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Bargell: How does That make you feel?

by Cindy Bargell

In the doctor’s office the other day I was struck by a small, framed quote hanging on the wall. The words there were not attributed to anyone, but they hit me in such a way that I wondered about their origin. The quote went like this: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” From their placement in the office, my guess is the words were intended as a gentle reminder that people frequenting doctor’s offices tend to be dealing with circumstances where bed-side manner may be just as important as discussing the details of the diagnosis.

On my return home, I enlisted the help of my personal assistant, Google, to find out that the quote originated with Maya Angelou, the renowned African-American poet, author and civil rights activist. Angelou’s autobiographical account of her early life, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” remains one of my favorite all-time reads. Not just because of Angelou’s amazing literary voice, but more because she was able to turn the unbelievable trauma that was her youth into triumph, creating the life she wanted, filled with grace, dignity and style.

Angelou has an uncanny knack of distilling life down to its essence. And, the meaning behind these words captured my attention on a number of different fronts.

As I read through the daily political rhetoric, I wondered what would happen if Angelou’s wisdom was considered – before the discussion started. What if politicians and pundits really took time to consider how a message makes those on the other side of the fence feel, and how those feelings impact consideration of its content? No, it’s not a politician’s job to make the other side “feel” good, but it seems reasonable to expect that points can be made without trying to make someone feel bad, or stupid. Good information gets lost when its delivery stirs up an emotional tussle.

Closer to home, it occurred to me that I often want to make my point so badly that I lose sight of how my family will feel once I’ve made myself heard. Sure, it’s great to get off my chest the fact that clothes typically do not walk upstairs and put themselves away. But still, when I tone it down a bit to give some thought to how the message will make the kids feel, I do indeed get a far better response. I’ve found “go clean your room, it’s a pigsty” does not stir up an enthusiastic desire to help out. My guess is sites like “Republicans are Idiots” on Facebook, or “Democratsarestupid.org” have much the same effect.

It’s a two-way street, and these days when the tenor or the kids’ voices set my nerves on edge, they often respond positively when I ask them just to listen to their own tone of voice. When they actually hear themselves, they sometimes are surprised, and like me they often do tone it down, at which point we’re in a better position to move forward. Not a perfect solution, but it’s more practical than grounding them until college.

It’s good for us all to stop mid-sentence on occasion – and listen to our tone of voice, or check our demeanor – considering how it makes those within earshot feel. Our message could then be all about its meaning, wholly unrelated to being demeaning. Just think, rooms would be cleaned, budgets balanced and world problems solved. And, if not, there’s always more of Angelou’s wisdom to fall back on, like, “if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She is a card-carrying PTSA member, real estate and natural resources lawyer and part-time gymnastics coach. She welcomes your comments at cindy@visanibargell.com.


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