Posted: September 16, 2020 in: Pain-2-Power

One “Little” Thing You Say Today Could Change a Whole Lot Two Decades from Now

Several years ago I evaluated a man in jail for assaulting a woman.  It was a very violent assault—so violent that I asked him whether he had been trying to kill the woman.

“No,” the man, then in his twenties, said.  “I did think about it, but I didn’t do it.”

I never shy away from the obvious next question.  “Why not?” I asked him.

He looked embarrassed by my question, even though talking earlier about the details of his horrific violence hadn’t seemed to affect him at all.  “It’s stupid,” he said.  “It makes no sense.”

“That’s okay,” I said.  “Tell me, anyhow.”

He shrugged.  He looked confused.

I waited.

Then he took a deep breath and said, “I was going to.  I was going to kill her.  And then I remembered a teacher I had back in, maybe, third or fourth grade.  I was causing all kinds of trouble, even back then, but this one teacher, she said, ‘I know everyone says you’re a bad kid, but I know you’re not.  I know you’re good underneath it all.”  He squinted, as if looking back in time.  Then he looked at me.  “And that’s why I didn’t go through with it.  That’s why I let her go.  All this time later.  I remember that one things.  That’s crazy, right?”

I sat there in silence for several seconds, stunned by the evidence that something one teacher had told this man, decades earlier, had saved a life.  Twenty words.  “No,” I said, finally.  “That’s not crazy at all.  What that teacher told you meant the world to you.  And, now, it’s saved two lives—hers and yours.  Because at some point—not for a long time, maybe—you’re going to be free, again, and have the chance to prove that teacher right.  Never, ever forget what she said.”

I share this story with you because I want you to know that you are just as powerful—today and every day—as this man’s teacher was.  She never knew the impact of her words, and you might not know the impact of yours, either.  But that does not mean that the loving, supportive, empowering words you speak to others when they most need to hear them won’t resonate with them and reemerge months, years or even decades later when they are most needed.

Dr. Keith Ablow


3 responses to “One “Little” Thing You Say Today Could Change a Whole Lot Two Decades from Now”

  1. Lilly says:

    I grew up in a rough, aggressive, mean society … got cornered by “thugs” and “tough guys” a few times, but I was never afraid … I could always talk my way out of trouble or find a way to reason with them … simply because I could find that drop of compassion in them and work with that!

  2. Susan Connolly says:

    Thank you Dr Ablow! I really enjoy when you have a real life story to tell that goes along with your post. It really makes it very meaningful to me.

  3. Bonnie Murray says:

    Such a powerful message. You’re right his life was saved as was hers!