This past weekend I was thrilled to spend time with two of my four children along with one of my dearest friends and two of her four children. We were on an adventure in the picturesque mountains of North Carolina, in a charming mountain ski town with twinkle lights all around and families enjoying the slopes. While our kids went off to tackle some terrifying slopes, I was pleasantly relaxed enjoying the beginner slopes.
I always love to watch small children enjoying sports. It was delightful watching the little ones on their skis and snowboards and I marveled at their lack of inhibition and fear. While waiting in line to hop on the chair lift, there was a dad with his son, about 6 years old, in front of me. The dad was instructing the boy on how to safely wait in line, move up to the chair lift, etc, when chaos broke out. A father and daughter, about the same ages as the duo in front of me, fell from the chair lift as they were ascending the mountain. There was lots of screaming, confusion, emergency buttons being pushed to stop the lift, as bystanders looked on helplessly. The little girl and her dad were really scared, rightfully so, but didn’t seem to be very hurt. Ski patrol whisked them off and the lift was started again. The scene definitely helped to ramp up some anxiety in those of us left in line. The dad in front of me was clearly more nervous and started “heavily” instructing his son. “Straighten out your board. Straighten it out! You have to be careful, you saw what just happened. Let’s go!”
I was as perplexed as the boy was because his board WAS straight, or seemed to be straight, but the dad kept telling him to straighten it. The boy finally looked down at his dad’s board, which was VERTICALLY straight, and the boy adjusted. Whew! The dad complimented the boy who smiled broadly. Crisis averted. On my way up that majestic mountain, I reflected on the whole scenario. For safety purposes, this boy needed to learn the correct way to get on the lift without getting hurt. It would have been a great time for the dad to teach him some vocabulary in order to make himself clear. I was thinking of the lesson I would have planned. Horizontal, relating to the horizon which is flat, and vertical with its root vert meaning to turn, straight up in the case of the word vertical. Perhaps the little girl who fell from the chair was never given any safety instructions, or if she was, the words were not clear. Accidents happen, but maybe with a little more instruction, this one could have been avoided. Language is powerful.
I thought of some other times that day appropriate language would have been useful. Let's rewind to the very beginning of our ski adventure. I walked up to the window with the small circle opening and asked the attendant if I could purchase some lift tickets. A small nod from the woman let me know she heard me, and then she said, “You know it’s two-twenty.” My first thought was, wow, that’s pretty expensive for lift tickets. Per person? Does a ski instructor carry you down the mountain for that price? So I inquired,
“It’s $220 for a lift ticket?”
“No. The lift ticket is $69, but it’s still two-thirty.”
Ok. Math is definitely not my strength but I genuinely did not know what she was talking about and I was starting to feel foolish. I decided to be honest.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The lift ticket attendant huffed and puffed. Maybe she was having a bad day?
“PICK UP YOUR ARM AND LOOK AT YOUR WATCH. YOUR WATCH TELLS YOU THE TIME AND IT’S 2:20.”
At this point I thought I might be on a hidden camera. Was I getting punked? I still had no idea what she was talking about. Perhaps my dim expression gave me away because she calmed down a bit and went into a full explanation about lift ticket times, day time rates, night skiing rates, etc. After clearing it all up, I left that window feeling pretty foolish. I felt like a reprimanded student who missed something because they weren’t paying attention. Read into that what you will. Language is powerful.
That night, I dropped my college freshman daughter off at her dorm before heading home from our weekend. I, of course, needed to make sure she had a solid meal before saying goodbye. Over dinner I asked her about her classes. She told me about a paper she was writing in one of her classes on how words can harness a lot of power. Very apropos given our day! She had to give several examples of how words harness power and expand on the examples. One of the examples she wrote about was how giving a compliment to a stranger, or getting a compliment from a stranger, can be very powerful. She is so right! You never know whose day you will change by speaking kind words aloud instead of merely thinking them. I couldn't help but think of the other side of THAT coin thanks to the lift ticket attendant. Language is powerful.
As I go about my week, I will continue to expand, teach, and learn vocabulary with my students. I will take the time to use clear, comprehensive language when teaching or explaining something, ensuring that I break down concepts as needed for clarity. Finally, I will pay attention while out and about and vocalize those compliments I normally keep in my head to strangers around me even if doing so may feel slightly uncomfortable. Language is powerful!