Stupid is a Six Letter Word

February 21, 2009 at 6:24 pm 1 comment

Gary Baseman Dunce
Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

A few months ago I was on the phone with one of my bosses.  As occasionally happens, I was working from home after hours and was sitting on the floor with my kids and trying to hold a somewhat intelligent conversation about the cost analysis of air conditioning on school buses while keeping small objects out of my eight-month old son’s mouth.  About ten minutes  in, I uttered a sentence sounding something like this, “Well that was just stupid.”

To which my four (and a half) year old replied, “Mommy, stupid is a bad word.”

Since that incident I have been called out by my daughter about a dozen times for using the word stupid. Her pre-kindergarten chastising has made me realize how often I use that word to refer to people, events, family members, and especially my job.  Her response remains consistent. “Mommy, stupid is a bad word.”

Yesterday I traveled to Austin to conduct a communications training for the Texas Association for School Nutrition.  The participants included directors of child nutrition for public school districts across the state of Texas.  One of the directors asked me what she could do to change the perception of her department since she felt like they were the “gum on people’s shoe.”

This is an excellent question and one that applies not only to cafeterias, but also to classrooms, corporations, health care institutions, families and individuals.  The first thing that any organization or individual can do to change public perception is to stop the negative talk.  We are our own worst enemy in this respect.  One of my superintendents told me once that the biggest problem in public education is public educators.  We get frustrated about what is going on and talk negatively about our students, our peers, and our administrators around the dinner table and at the grocery store.  The problem is, if we aren’t talking about the great things happening in our organization, how do we expect anyone else to do it for us?

We are also guilty of allowing others to talk negatively about our organizations.  How often have you heard someone bashing your organization or your peers and not stepped in?  I know that I am guilty and I am the PR professional.  Whether the bashing is based on factual or erroneous information, we may not correct them because we are embarrassed, because we don’t have correct information, or because we just don’t want to get involved.  Whatever the case, our silence indicates agreement and that perpetuates the negative image.

Our tenancy is to blame the mainstream media for running only negative stories, and I am not trying to release them of all accountability.  But we hold much more power in our spheres of influence and the conversations we hold each day.

I challenged the child nutrition directors to come up with three positive facts about their districts and to have those on hand at all times.  Any time they had a chance, I asked them to share one of those three positive facts with the people in their sphere of influence.  When they were tempted to say something negative, I asked them to replace that thought with one of these three key facts.  When they heard someone talking negatively about their program, they could challenge those negative remarks with one or two of these positive goings on.

Just through this brief exercise I immediately learned somethings about our district.  For instance, I learned that:

  • We have had perfect health inspection scores at all of our campuses.
  • We have no fryers anywhere in our district.  Everything (including the chicken fried steak and the french fries) are baked.  Our menus have a higher nutritional value that almost everything that you would serve at home.
  • All of our child nutrition staff have to be certified and trained every year.

That is good stuff.  You have good stuff to say about your organization, your family, and yourself.  I challenge you to write it down and to keep it with you so that the next time you are tempted to say someone or something is stupid, you have something else to say instead.

My daugther keeps me in check by reminding me that although stupid may not be a four letter word, sometimes a six letter word can do even more damage.

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Entry filed under: Effective Communication, Uncategorized. Tags: , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Richie Escovedo  |  February 24, 2009 at 5:11 am

    I agree that we as communications/PR people are too often complicit in allowing negative speak permeate unchallenged. The tacit approval is something that we should be ashamed of, but it is often hard to engage when people already have in there minds what is and isn’t true about public education.

    Excellent “food” for thought 😉

    You should really write more.


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