kids in classroom

5 Minute Changemaker: Speak the Good in Others

by Marsha Rakestraw

My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Leddy, had us students do something that I have never forgotten.

She called it a “car wash.”

Every week one of us would be the “car,” and the other students would form two lines in front of the car.

Zigzagging from one side to the other, the “car” would go to each person in the “wash” line, and that person would whisper into the “car’s” ear something good about them — something that the speaker liked, respected, appreciated, or admired about them.

I don’t remember many of the things my fellow students said to me.

One boy said that I was his third girlfriend (whatever that meant).

I remember that the boy I had a crush on told me that he liked playing sports with me.

Someone else liked my smile.

The details of those individual encounters are fuzzy, but the memory of how I felt after having been washed in all that goodwill and kindness is still precious to me.

I introduced this activity to my cohort of fellow humane educators when we had our Student Residency one year, and the faculty liked it so much that they used it as the closing activity.

(They’ve modified it now so that students write down something about their fellow students during the week, so that everyone has something positive to take home from everyone else.)

For my 25th birthday, my husband wrote down 25 things he loved about me and put them in a simple handmade book — one item per page, one page per hour of the day.

It was one of the best gifts he’s ever given me; I still have it nearly 25 years later.

One New Year’s Day, just after midnight, I sat around with a small group of friends in my co-housing community, and we each took turns sharing an intention that we had for each of the others.

When we finished, everyone in that circle felt loved, appreciated, respected, more confident, more hopeful about the future — and more powerful about helping shape that future.

I’ve never forgotten that night.

These are just a few of the times that sincere, authentic, kind words have helped shape my view of myself and have affected the next steps on my life’s journey.

Yes, it’s important to look within ourselves for all those important qualities of joy, confidence, meaning, respect, love, and so on.

We can’t rely on others for our self-perception, and it can be detrimental to pay too much attention to what others say about us.

But I also think that it’s important that we help serve as a reflection for others, so that they can more easily break through the static of culture and personal history that get in the way of their being able to see their own good and value.

Take a few minutes each day to look for the good in the people around you and speak it.

You will both be empowered by it.

(Note: After I wrote this post, I happened upon this video of middle school students speaking the good in their classmates. Check it out.)

Your Turn!

  • Tell us about a time that someone’s words about you uplifted you!
  • When have your words made a difference to someone else?
  • Whom can you “speak the good” to today?

Share in the comments!