The principal of our elementary school has signs on the wall in the school office with her motto, a quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.” While that’s a great “mission statement”, the mere act of having that hanging on the wall (and published in our school newsletter, proclaimed during morning announcements, etc.) personifies an even stronger truth: We are what we repeatedly say. My memories of that principal may dim as soon as Emmie moves on to Jr. High, but that saying will stick in my head longer, and it will help me to remember her. And I’ll bet the kids will remember her by that as well.
On this Memorial Day, I’m thinking of my dad, who was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force during WW II, but usually when I think of him, I think of his “sayings” or mottos. He was full of them. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” was a favorite of his (meaning, go for the sure thing rather than taking a chance– which both helped and hindered his life), as well as “Stick with me, kid, and you’ll be wearing radishes” (which meant, follow my advice and things will turn out for the best). And when I think about his mottos, not only do I remember the words, but I remember how he said them. It’s like he’s right there, saying them again, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye (seriously, it was a twinkle!). Oh, sure, parents give advice in other ways, but it’s those short phrases, repeatedly said, that stick in our head. I used to think such “sayings” were corny and old-fashioned, as I’m sure many of my peers did, but now that Dad’s gone, I’m so glad his sayings remain.
Which of course leads me to wonder, do I repeatedly say anything that my kids will remember? Emmie would probably say it’s “Don’t forget to wear sunscreen” or “Carry your plate to the sink”. But I also, once in awhile, say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and that would be a nice thing for them to remember.
What is your “motto” or favorite thing to say? If you don’t have one, make one up. Or, borrow some that you like—I already mentioned Aristotle, and Dr. Seuss had some great ones, too, that aren’t found in his children’s books. Google the name of someone you admire and put the word “quotes” next to their name and see what you can find. Look for “famous quotes” books in any bookstore or library. Or, eat Chinese take-out, and get inspiration from the fortune cookies. I think I got the “lemons” quote from a poster I once saw in a Scholastic Book catalog when I was a kid. There are also many good “quotes and sayings” sites online, like www.Great-quotes.com, which divides quote topics by category, like Children, Love, Friendship, etc.
Just remember to keep your sayings short and simple so they’re easy for others to remember. (Hey– “Keep things short and simple” or some incarnation of that– maybe “the less you say, the more people will listen” — would actually be a pretty good one… I know I could stand to follow that advice more often for many aspects of my life—telephone messages, speeches, disciplining my kids, composing emails, writing posts for this blog….) J