Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words
99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2012 Brian Remer
Updated Nov. 2012

Read my new book
Say It Quick!

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

November 2012

Teaching a Lesson
Carol confessed that she didn't like to cook. She recalled her Home Economics class. She was beating an egg with a fork. The teacher said, "Not so much noise. I don't want to hear any clicking when you're beating those eggs!" Now, half a lifetime later, Carol admitted, "That only made me want to do it more. And I always think of that woman whenever I beat eggs!"

How would that teacher react if she knew the only thing Carol remembers from her class is having been scolded?

Often, the littlest comments have the biggest impact!


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discssion within your team or organization.

There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis:

Many of us can probably recall a negative lesson we learned from a headstrong teacher. And most likely that lesson had little to do with Geometry, Chemistry, Literature, Political Science, or Spanish verb conjugations. Instead, the lesson probably taught us how to communicate under stress, how to relate to others "below" us, or how to respond to uncharitable acts.

But this story is not necessarily about our educational system. It's about the lessons we teach when we are not in a formal teaching role. It's about the unintended teaching by actions, tone, and context in addition to the words we say.

It's one part frightening and two parts humbling to realize that you have taught a lesson you didn't mean to teach. When I was feeling a tad grumpy and I made that sarcastic response to my wife's question, did she learn to be watchful, cautious? When I was impatient while helping my daughter with her Algebra, did she learn that parents shouldn't be bothered with their kid's schoolwork? And when I spoke out about the "incompetence" of the person behind the counter, did that person and everyone in the waiting room learn - well, let's not go there!

The negative lessons we didn't mean to teach do carry weight. They become the extra baggage that we pay a surcharge for when we should be flying free. Fortunately, there is hope in this involuntary teaching and learning. If we don't know when we might have taught a negative lesson, we also don't know when we may have taught a positive lesson. What about the lessons of generosity, caring, patience, and respect we have taught? These too have become part of someone's baggage. But, instead of adding dead weight, like an extendable handle or wheels on luggage, they lighten the load.

Say, what about doing these small acts of kindness on purpose? If we can teach a lesson without trying, what can we do with intention? How many opportunities are there in a day to teach a lesson about kindness, generosity, or responding to adversity with grace and humor? If I woke my daughter with a smile, took a playful attitude in the checkout line, or led a respectful, collaborative meeting, could I teach a lasting lesson? After all, family members, strangers, colleagues, and even bosses may be hungry for the lesson of a kind word or a forgiving tone.

Will small acts of kindness accumulate and translate into lasting lessons? Who knows! The master may teach, but the student determines the lesson!

It is clear though that how we do something is as important as what we do. In the same way that many small lessons create an education, many small actions create a day, a year, and a lifetime. Perhaps our survival instincts have hardwired us to remember the negative slights. After all, we need to know when to fight or fly. But there is just as much potential for us to be teaching positive lessons - in fact, we probably cannot avoid them! In the way we speak and the respect we show to others we are always teaching something.

What will your next memorable lesson be?

Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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