I just finished reading Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help.
It came out three years ago so I’m a little late. In fact, it has already been made into a movie starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, which I haven’t yet seen. The book gives a telling account of life as an African American maid in Jackson, Mississippi during the 60s. It is always gut wrenching to read about the horrible things humans have done to one another out of ignorance, fear and blind acceptance of so called social norms. It makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with us. And yet it is also uplifting to read about the flipside of humanity and our equal capacity for braveness, love and compassion.
Whenever I finish a really well written book there are bits and pieces that flap along with me long after the book is gathering dust. They ride along like sticky notes stuck to my temple. In this case it’s the words, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” These were the words Aibileen spoke over Mae Mobley, the little white girl she cared for. They were delivered daily as a sort of soul balm to make up for how Mae Mobley’s own mother delivered only fault and blame. Aibileen would gently encourage Mae Mobley to repeat the mantra back, “I is kind. I is smart. I is important,” wisely knowing how these words would eventually etch a groove in her brain to help in the dark times ahead.
What a beautiful, powerful thing to be told every day that you is kind, you is smart, you is important even if — especially if — your own mother believes you’re nothing of the kind. We all carry a mantra inside us whether we are aware of it or not. For too many it goes something like “I am stupid, I can’t do it, I never get it right.” Well dropkick those mantras to the curb and throw them under a bus. How do you do that? By taking the time every day to say I am smart, I am kind, I am important. Heck, say it 50 times a day. Does that seem excessive? It shouldn’t. Studies have shown we entertain up to 50,000 thoughts a day and 80 per cent are usually negative, which means 40,000 times a day we think along the lines of “I am stupid, I can’t do it, I never get it right.” Surely we can make the effort to stop ourselves at least 50 times to say something positive instead.
“But it’s not that easy,” you say. It is that easy. Nine little words aren’t that difficult to say. Write them on cards, pencil them on Post-it notes and stencil them on bookmarks. Tack, sprinkle and frame them all over your house as evidence of your worth.
“But I didn’t have someone like Aibileen telling me I was kind, smart and important every day. When I was a kid it felt like I couldn’t do anything right.”
Well, you’re not a kid anymore are you? There’s no future in the past. Quit adding to those 40,000 negative thoughts and get busy subtracting from them instead. The kicker is that positive thinking is almost always based on truth while negative thinking is usually based on lies. Think about it. You’re stupid? You can’t do it? You never get it right? Never? I doubt it. In fact, I bet you’re kind, smart and important.
If you were following a person out of a store and they slipped and fell down would you A) help them up or B) rush over and kick them. If you chose A, you’re kind. If you chose B, well, stop it.
Just the fact that you’re reading this means you’re smart enough to read, though smart comes in so many different guises. You might be smart at cooking, listening to friends or fixing things. Or maybe you’re smart at working with animals, growing a garden or putting a puck in the net. But trust me, you are smart. Everyone is smart at something.
And for sure you’re important. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life you would be shocked at what the world would be like had you never been born. Consider people you have loved who are no longer here. Think about the things they did that made a difference in your life. Well you make a difference too. Every person makes a difference even if it’s simply the time you smiled at a stranger on the bus and unknowingly launched a chain reaction of goodwill that averted a suicide. So say it loud, say it proud and say it often. I am kind, I am smart, I am important. Say it because it’s true.
Shannon McKinnon is a Canadian humour columnist. You can read past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.