“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This saying can be heard at elementary schools throughout America.
Is it true? On the physical side of things, it may seem that sticks and stones are more dangerous than words. But consider this…the words someone speaks to himself or to others has the potential to give life or death.
The tongue has the power of life and death. ~Proverbs 18:21
One Sunday morning when I was the worship leader, I wanted to ask the church this question, “How many of you indeed have a hard time receiving a compliment?“ I did not end up asking this question, and there’s probably a reason for it that I do not yet understand. My guess is that most of them would have raised their hand – to say yes, I do have a hard time taking compliments. Why? People of Chinese descent do not often give compliments, at least not the ones who have immigrated to the U.S. As a result, their children end up not receiving compliments, praise or feedback for what they do.
Because the children did not receive compliments or emotional support, the children also have a hard time giving genuine compliments to one another. What comes out of their lips is either quiet confusion, or on the other side of the pendulum, a sense of one-upping each other, putting each other down “out of love” – perhaps thinking, deceived, that this might help them to be better and work harder. Hmm…sounds familiar to what many immigrant Chinese parents do – they don’t say that their child is smart when in fact he is. Instead, they say he’s worthless, or compare him to his cousin, or don’t say anything at all, maybe as a way to motivate him to work harder in school and be better? It doesn’t happen in every Chinese family, but I’ve observed it in a lot of them. By the way, 93% of all communication is non-verbal, so the children can actually feel in their spirit the disapproval & criticism coming from the parent even when nothing is said.
I have come to a deeper understanding of why there is a lack of positive words being spoken – most of the Chinese immigrants start off very poor and they are motivated to work hard to make it financially for the sake of the next generation. They have spent most of their energy to physically and financially provide for their family; they had little emotional energy left to give to their spouse and children. They work hard, are extremely dedicated and no doubt love their children. Many of them did not know the Lord. So they themselves, have not had positive words spoken over them. And now that I’m a parent, I know how much parents give out to their kids, so I have a greater appreciation for mine. None of our parents are perfect, and we cannot expect them to be, or we’ll go through the rest of life subconsciously blaming them for our imperfections. We need to accept that we are imperfect, but we are LOVED and perfect in His sight. We have to believe this, or we’ll struggle forever with our sense of self-worth.
We may have had negative words spoken over us during our growing-up years, and have to battle more with perfectionistic, critical & judgmental tendencies, but we can rise up with hope when we let our Abba help us soar the way He intended us to. He regards us as amazing! Remember, we only limit ourselves when we think we’re terrible, horrible, not-so-great, very bad people – albeit we have sin & make mistakes, we’re really created in His image to do awesome works, which He’s already prepared for us to do.
But the children of immigrant Chinese are not as hard-pressed to have the same kind of work ethic that their parents do. They are not required to do whatever it takes to put the next meal on the table. They did not see the type of suffering their parents had to endure. They live in America, a land of plenty. As a result, many do not have to develop a well-rounded discipline (yet). It can be confusing to sift through their identity and purpose in life. They are Chinese and American at the same time. They are the sandwich generation – taking care of aging parents who may not understand the American way, and working to pass on hope & grace to their children without forgetting the Chinese way. It can be confusing to figure out which culture to follow.
The wonderful thing is, God has given us the best culture of all to follow – HIS! I love it that we can learn the best, and ditch the worst, of both cultures. And over and above them is God’s culture. That is the encouragement He gives me as I went through this Psychology Experiment – in which I struggled with the awkwardness of giving compliments in the beginning. But now, Lord help me I will never stop giving encouragement and praise out of my lips. Remember, life and death is in the power of the tongue. Work harder on ourselves in this area, and we’ll grow sweeter fruit wherever we go, whatever we do – whether at home, at work, at church, overseas or in business.
Check out my 21-Day Compliment Experiment!