A few years ago I encountered a book entitled How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath. It was a fairly quick read but it revealed the story of how powerful words are to a person’s spirit.
He started the book by explaining tactics of the North Koreans during the Korean War. The most effective technique North Koreans used on their prisoners was not physical torture but psychological, achieved by withholding letters from home and telling the prisoners they were forgotten by their family. Unloved. Worthless. As I recall, prisoners who were otherwise untouched and well-fed died of broken hearts and spirit.
Something about this insight shook me to the core.
The author wondered if negative words could have such a drastic effect on people, what sort of impact would the opposite have? He said to imagine that each of us walks around with a bucket, and to scoop from our own and pour it into the bucket of those around us. Our serving is a kind or encouraging word but even as you do this, your bucket never empties. It remains full.
The imagery of this resonated strongly with me. Now, I have always tried to be a person to say a kind word to those around me. Maybe it’s a function of age, but as I get older, I am fearless approaching complete strangers to compliment their hair or smile and I take the time to look them in the eyes when I say it. I don’t flatter. I don’t lie about the things I say. My words are deliberate and genuine, and I honestly try to work at it every chance I get because God knows people need a lift.
At home here with the kids, we’ve got this thing in the mornings. Our kids are a little like me when they wake up. They aren’t completely awake. They don’t bounce out of bed completely conscious, totally happy, with their full “morning strength”. Morning, daresay, is when they are feeling most vulnerable.
Like a thousand parents before us, we stir as the kids crawl wordlessly into bed in the wee hours of the morning. Some days I can just sense it, and I quietly ask,”Do you need your love bucket filled?” and they silently, gently nod with their little heads.
And this is when we spoon and I curl up around my child with my arms tucked across their belly and I start to whisper words of love and encouragement into their ears. I tell them how much I love their smile or spunk or laugh. How grateful I am that they are part of our family. How much they were wanted. How proud I am of their effort. How beautiful I think they are in body and soul. How very much I love them and always will.
And sometimes, even after the words have stopped, we hug just a little bit longer while the full effect slowly drips, drips, drips into their love bucket, kinda like a coffee machine. And the hearts of my children are full until the next time.
At the suggestion of my friend Carol, I finally read the The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman a few years ago and learned I am a “words of affirmation” kind of chick who appreciates some “acts of service” on the side. I probably could have guessed my primary love language sooner than my late 40s but it was validating to understand myself and others around me much better than before.
It explains why I fell incredibly hard decades ago for someone who wrote songs about me. They were among the first words of affirmation I had ever received. Those words were so potent, they linger with me even today. And I’m still a complete, total sucker for a kind, personal word. I wish I didn’t need it but it’s like I was born with a hole in my bucket. Or maybe a hole got punched in my bucket…I don’t know.
Over the years, I realized that it isn’t normal or psychologically healthy for outsiders to be the primary ones to fill your love bucket. This should come from your family of origin. I vowed I wouldn’t let that be an issue for my own kids. Ever.
So when it comes to my kids, it’s entirely possible I am doing this more for me than for them. I don’t know if it’s the hugging and sense of warmth and safety they crave more or the words, but they get both from me. Actually, my husband and I used the Chapman book to understand what our kids need and I do know, and I have adapted my style accordingly as Chief Administrator of Louie Love.
How full is your love bucket? What are you doing to fill those around you? Got your ladle?