By Ray Lucas
“What the mind is bombarded with, the mind will accept.”
While in high school I heard a speaker declare this as part of his presentation. I can’t recall what his greater theme was, but that quote has always stuck with me.
“What the mind is bombarded with, the mind
I have since come to see a universal truth in this statement. Marketing professionals have
long known this fact. You only need to think about slogans from McDonalds or Coca-Cola to
know it’s true.
“Like a good neighbor, _____ _____ is there!”
As most who have heard that State Farm commercial over and again, I’ll bet
you were able to finish the jingle. As a new parent, some 21 years ago, I was concerned about all of the negative messages the world constantly communicates to young
girls. I was worried about my daughter hearing messages that emphasized she wasn’t beautiful
enough, she wasn’t smart enough, or that her options in life were limited because she was a girl.
To counter all of these limiting messages, I began to lean on that lesson from years ago and repeat a simple message to her that I felt she needed to
hear and believe.
PERHAPS THE REAL VALUE WAS THAT I CAME TO BELIEVE THESE STATEMENTS AS I REPEATED THEM, AND IN SMALL INCREMENTS, THESE MESSAGES CHANGED THE WAY I SAW AND PARENTED EACH CHILD.
“You are smart, you are beautiful, and you can be anything you want to be when you grow up,”
I would whisper into her ear each night when I
put her down to sleep.
I shared these statements because they were true. I also shared them in hopes
that she would absorb them and make them a part of her character.
When my son came along a few years later, I realized that these statements should be tailored for him and focused on messages that boys need
“You are smart, you are creative, and I’m
proud of you,” I repeated most nights.
It became such a regular ritual that as he grew older, he would interrupt me with mock contempt and an eye roll saying, “I know, I know, Daddy! I’m smart,
creative and you’re proud of me. You don’t have
to tell me. I know it.”
When my stepson came into my life, I felt it was important to add statements that were unique to him: “You are smart, you are a positive leader, and
you are loved.”
Being a stepfather is tough, and above all else I always want him to know he is loved.
When our youngest son was about 2 years old, I settled on what I thought he needed to hear: “You are smart, you are joyful, and you are adventurous.”
He has always been a happy child full of laughter and smiles, and I pray that always continues. I hope he also embraces his sense of adventure and discovery as he grows older.
Looking back, I should have included a little bit of “self-talk” over the years.
“You like folding laundry, you are a well-rested parent and you
love eating vegetables with your kids,” would be
an aggressive start.
After decades of repeating these statements to
my children, it’s fair to ask the question, has it made an impact? The short answer is I don’t know. I certainly don’t think it has hurt
their concept of self, but I suppose it will take more time to know how they
have absorbed these beliefs. Even if it has made a small impact, I recognize
that so have the many big life lessons they have learned from their parents,
family, schoolteachers, friends, the community, etc.
While writing this reflection, I asked my oldest son, who was home finishing
his COVID-19 interrupted studies in acting at the University of Cincinnati,
if he still remembered what I used to tell him.
“Of course, I do,” he replied.
“Do you feel it had an impact?” I asked.
“Well, I am preparing for a career in
the arts – that’s about as creative as it gets. Those attributes were probably
already a part of me, but I think hearing them repeatedly helped magnify
them,” he reflected.
As for my smart and beautiful daughter, she just graduated from college
with a 4.0 grade point average and will soon start her master’s degree program
towards a career in occupational therapy. I don’t know if those repeated
messages helped, but I’m proud all the same that she embodies all three.
It has recently occurred to me that maybe this practice was less important
for my children and more important for me. Perhaps the real value was that I
came to believe these statements as I repeated them, and in small increments,
these messages changed the way I saw and parented each child. I think the
power of repeating these messages was in the change it created within me,
not in them.
It’s also not lost on me that the value of repeating positive messages is
especially relevant in turbulent times like the ones we are living in. Whether
it’s parenting, relationships, leadership in my corners of the world, caring
for a vulnerable planet or promoting the rights and dignity of all people –
particularly my black and brown brothers and sisters – I have a responsibility
to put positive messages out into the world and repeat them over and again.
And it is just as true that these messages are as much about changing me as
those around me.
Lord knows there have been times, past and present, when I have not lived
up to my potential. Like most, I struggle to know the right thing to do and say
as often as I feel confident in my parenting, my relationships, my leadership
or my citizenship. There is no instruction manual on parenting or adulting
and the world is full of destructive messages.
Yet if there were such a document, I wonder if there would be a chapter
that focused on repeating the positive change we wish to create in the world
and in our children that would be entitled, “What the mind is bombarded
with, the mind will accept.” If so, that’s where you will find my bookmark.