Despite its brevity, I believe in the magnitude and power of the word “yes.” As a high school history teacher, I have seen the effects of both “yes” and “no” for several years now, and I have come to believe that “yes” may be the most powerful word that is too rarely used. Telling a student “no” informs them of an error, a false step, their miscommunication, and potentially quashes their intellectual curiosity. “No” can stop a person in their tracks, make them re-think a brilliant idea to the point of its non-existence, or worse yet, give way to “never.” The evolution of “no” into “never” can be gradual or immediate, but regardless of the speed, “never” is always deadly to drive and determination. Too often, telling someone “no you can’t” is heard as “you never will” and that is a terrible thought to plant inside the mind of an emerging, curious, young adult.
But the power of “yes” in undeniable. The reaction of someone who has heard “yes” is clear – a smile, a face aglow with hope and a mind open to new ideas, hard work and the determination to hear “yes” many more times. When students enter my classroom, I know I have many roles to fulfill: educator, counselor, a thirty-something textbook jockey posing as a heroic Indiana Jones leading young minds through the perils of the Black Plague, world wars, and the emergence of new nations. When the faces of these students turn from reluctance to amazement and from self-doubt to self-empowerment, I believe that I am in the presence of the power “yes.”
“Yes, that is an important idea.”
“Yes, you’re right, that event is very significant.”
“Yes, times are tough right now, but how much better can we make them together?”
“Yes, you made a bad choice – and yes, I am willing to help you make better choices.”
“Yes – your ideas, your feelings, and above all else – YOU alone – are worth acknowledgement.”
It is not just the word “yes” that invigorates the student, but seeing the sincerity from the person confirming their success that gives meaning to this otherwise brief sentiment. Within the student being told “yes” grows potential, aspiration, hope and dreams. When students push themselves through their anxiety and self-doubt to risk their fragile self-esteem by venturing participation, a new idea or a positive contribution, “yes” tells them that it was worth that risk while renewing their interest and self-confidence. Who knows where “yes” will take them: “yes, your math answer is correct” could become an engineer, or “yes, that is a beautiful painting” could become the next Picasso, or even “yes, that is an interesting interpretation of those events” could become a passionate high school teacher – as I learned from my own experiences with “yes” throughout my own education.
So the next time you are tempted to respond with “no,” think about how that person may react to “yes.” It doesn’t cost any money, uses only three letters, and can deliver the confidence we all need to succeed.
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