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.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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via Matt Radick / Flickr

Joe Biden reversed Donald Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military earlier this year, allowing the entire LGBTQ community to serve for the first time.

Anti-gay sentiment in the U.S. military goes as far back as 1778 when Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin was convicted at court-martial on charges of sodomy and perjury. The military would go on to make sodomy a crime in 1920 and worthy of dishonorable discharge.

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