Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The power of labels

I've been volunteering at a school lately, as a reading mentor. I've been reading Charlotte's Web to this kid. Of course I read the book a few times when I was young, but it's always interesting what you can pick up on from a really good book when you are an adult sharing it with a child who is hearing it for the first time.

For one thing, I am noticing how E. B. White takes the time to paint vivid pictures of farm life, the people, and the animals. Sights, sounds, smells. How the children play on the rope swing in the barn. The trash that Templeton likes finding down at the dump. Charlotte's actions and movements as she weaves her Web, legs and spinarettes working together, as she talks to herself. This is good storytelling. I have run into enough disappointing stories over the years that it's refreshing to get back to quality, and having a child to share it with makes it like new again. I can't wait for my girls to be old enough to share it.

Another thing I'm picking up on is the power of labels. Wilbur is a pig. Just a pig.  He is special in the eyes of Fern and Charlotte, who love him simply for who he is. But in the eyes of the world, he is just another pig, destined for the dinner table. Until Charlotte gives him a label. "Some Pig". Then the world agrees, he is no ordinary pig. When the web declares him to be "Terrific", and everyone talks about how terrific this pig is, he starts to feel pretty terrific about himself. Then Charlotte rejects a couple of "appetizing" words suggested by the rat, and settles on "Radiant". Lo and behold, Wilbur becomes radiant.

Here are a couple of things that I take from this:
1) The power of labels can be used for good. If you want to bring out the best in a person, you first need to love them enough to see the best in them. Then you need to help them see that best in themselves. As a dad, I want to see my girls live amazing lives. I see that potential in them. It is my job to show them a positive image of who they can be, what sort of women they can become.
2) Love is crucial in this equation. Check out this news story for a case where a teacher's ability to love his student failed catastrophically. I know that my kids can and will test my patience. From time to time discipline will be needed. It falls on me to make sure I am always making it clear, when I have to give one of the girls a time-out or worse for bad behavior, that it is the behavior that is the problem, and that Daddy still loves them.