One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.
Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in their papers.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ she heard whispered. ‘I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!’ and, ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much,’ were most of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.
Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.
The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.
As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ he asked. She nodded: ‘yes.’ Then he said: ‘Mark talked about you a lot.’
After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon.. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.
‘We want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.
‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, Mark treasured it.’
All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’
Chuck’s wife said, ‘Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.’
‘I have mine too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary’
Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me at all times,’ Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: ‘I think we all saved our lists’
That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be. Yet we can’t be bothered to add a tiny bit of value to another’s life. Perhaps nobody told us that when you add a sliver of value to someone else’s life, you add a far bigger bit to your own.
Did you add value to your life today?
Another of those e-mail forwards that one reads and shrugs away. Yet this one caught me by the throat. For three days now I have been thinking of erasing it from my inbox. But I couldn’t.
I imagined doing this exercise in the training room… or with members of an organization… or within a family. I cant imagine a better tool to infuse energy and foster cohesion among a group of people than this, can you?
Good one Dagny ..I have read it earlier…still good to re-read
Thank you PGR. 🙂
It would please me a lot if you’d read the last post called “An Everyday Morning”. There’s more of ME in that one. Narcissistic, am I…? 😀
Pleased to see you here. Its been long, hasn’t it?
Good Day Dear Dagny!
This is one of my favorite e-mails ever. I’ve received it dozens of times and it makes me smile. To think that one little exercise can make such a difference in a person’s life, or in the plural of persons’ lives is such a wonder! I’ve had that experience several times in my 60 years, it is humbling each time it happens. Most recently it came through a call from a woman whose family I counseled nearly 10 years ago, who was in the process of making a very radical change to her life, she told me that she has thought all these years about one statement that I’d made to her, that it was like a seed in the ground that had finally sprouted, taken root, and refused to be denied the right and opportunity to grow. She said that when she finally let that simple statement, “You deserve more respect and gentle treatment, I hope that someday you can allow yourself to feel that you are worthy of more and reach out to accept it.” I did not recall saying that to her, the quote is her remembrance of what I’ve said to her. What I do recall about the weeks I spent working with the family was that I felt ineffectual in helping them change painful patterns. The deeds we do, the words we speak, the touches we give to others, the authenticity of respect and care we afford others, may not seem important or powerful at the time, it is only in retrospect that we see that we were the voices, the hands, the hearts of the gods and that they are not limited by the constraints of time that we mere mortals try to apply to control the outcome or destiny. The gods are not limited by mortality as we are. Their time is eternal, and as such, things come full circle when the time is right.
I wish you love, peace, and the knowledge of your own acts of kindness coming full circle .
Blessings and love to you my friend!
You speak of humbling experiences. The incident you have related has made my heart full- not because you helped change a life. I feel particularly moved because at the time you were counseling with the family, you felt ineffective.
From this I understand that you didn’t really feel- at that time- that your efforts were going to be fruitful. From that low ebb of expectation, to receive a response so deeply rooted in hope and positive outcome is particularly heartening. It restores your spirit. It tells you once again that when the night appears its darkest, the dawn is but an hour away.
It also tells you not to judge your effectiveness by the result you’ve managed to produce in the moment of action. As Dr Robert Schuller says, ‘success is never ending’. You can never compute how far… and to how many generations… your influence will travel.
I wish you many generations of touching lives… the way you do. May your influence multiply, may you bless many lives- as you bless mine.