What a tube of toothpaste can teach us about the power of words.

Someone called me "four eyes" for the first time in middle school.

It didn't bother me enough to stop wearing my glasses, which I'd proudly worn since third grade — but those first bullying words stuck with me.

Yep, that's me and my beloved "four eyes" days! Image from the author, used with permission.


Middle school is a time when words start to matter a little bit more.

As teens try to shape their identities, insults can sting for a little longer. Peers' opinions seem to matter more. Teens want to be cool and unique, but they also want to fit in and belong.

That's why Amy Beth Gardner, a loving mom from Cleveland, Tennessee, squeezed out a tube of toothpaste for her daughter.

Huh? Let me explain.

Last week, Amy shared a story on Facebook about an interaction she had with her 11-year-old daughter, Breonna. First, Amy gave Breonna a tube of toothpaste and squirted it all out onto a plate. Then she asked her to put it back into the tube.

Breonna was understandably confused and frustrated. But the toothpaste was her mother's brilliant and beautiful metaphor for explaining that words matter. Once your words are out of your mouth, you can't just put them back in your mouth ... just like the toothpaste.

"My toothpaste was a mess and I went to clean it and started thinking about how, just like words once you have said them, you can't put toothpaste back in a tube," Amy said.

Here's Amy's original post:

My daughter starts middle school tomorrow. We've decorated her locker, bought new uniforms, even surprised her with a...

Posted by Amy Beth Gardner on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Here's the full text:

"My daughter starts middle school tomorrow. We've decorated her locker, bought new uniforms, even surprised her with a new backpack. But tonight just before bed, we did another pre-middle school task that is far more important than the others. I gave her a tube of toothpaste and asked her to squirt it out onto a plate. When she finished, I calmly asked her to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. She began exclaiming things like 'But I can't!' and 'It won't be like it was before!' I quietly waited for her to finish and then said the following:

'You will remember this plate of toothpaste for the rest of your life. Your words have the power of life or death. As you go into middle school, you are about to see just how much weight your words carry. You are going to have the opportunity to use your words to hurt, demean, slander and wound others. You are also going to have the opportunity to use your words to heal, encourage, inspire and love others. You will occasionally make the wrong choice; I can think of three times this week I have used my own words carelessly and caused harm. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can't take them back. Use your words carefully, Breonna. When others are misusing their words, guard your words. Make the choice every morning that life-giving words will come out of your mouth. Decide tonight that you are going to be a life-giver in middle school. Be known for your gentleness and compassion. Use your life to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness.'"

We all have a choice about whether to say something hurtful or hold it in — and that's what's important.

As Amy acknowledges in the post, everyone — including herself — can make the wrong choice sometimes and say something hurtful. We can either choose to use our words for good and make people feel better about themselves, or the other way around.

What Amy did is not only admirable, but also necessary.

Bullying is a major problem in schools, and it's important to teach kids and teens that their words have power.

Can you imagine if more parents used this clever metaphor to teach their kids about the weight of their words? That's a lot of wasted toothpaste, but a whole lot of spared feelings and goodness in the world too.

Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
True

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

Keep Reading Show less

Empathy. Compassion. Heart-to-heart human connection. These qualities of leadership may not be flashy or loud, but they speak volumes when we see them in action.

A clip of Joe Biden is going viral because it reminds us what that kind of leadership looks like. The video shows a key moment at a memorial service for Chris Hixon, the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. Hixon had attempted to disarm the gunman who went on a shooting spree at the school, killing 17 people—including Hixon—and injuring 17 more.

Biden asked who Hixon's parents were as the clip begins, and is directed to his right. Hixon's wife introduces herself, and Biden says, "God love you." As he starts to walk away, a voice off-camera says something and Biden immediately turns around. The voice came from Hixon's son, Corey, and the moments that followed are what have people feeling all their feelings.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Witty Buttons / Twitter

Back in 2017, when white supremacist Richard Spencer was socked in the face by someone wearing all black at Trump's inauguration, it launched an online debate, "Is it OK to punch a Nazi?"

The essential nature of the debate was whether it was acceptable for people to act violently towards someone with repugnant reviews, even if they were being peaceful. Some suggested people should confront them peacefully by engaging in a debate or at least make them feel uncomfortable being Nazi in public.

Keep Reading Show less

The English language is constantly evolving, and the faster the world changes, the faster our vocabulary changes. Some of us grew up in an age when a "wireless router" would have been assumed to be a power tool, not a way to get your laptop (which wasn't a thing when I was a kid) connected to the internet (which also wasn't a thing when I was a kid, at least not in people's homes).

It's interesting to step back and look at how much has changed just in our own lifetimes, which is why Merriam-Webster's Time Traveler tool is so fun to play with. All you do is choose a year, and it tells you what words first appeared in print that year.

For my birth year, the words "adult-onset diabetes," "playdate," and "ATM" showed up in print for the first time, and yes, that makes me feel ridiculously old.

It's also fun to plug in the years of different people's births to see how their generational differences might impact their perspectives. For example, let's take the birth years of the oldest and youngest members of Congress:

Keep Reading Show less