In Natalie’s early elementary school years, there was a reassuring program taught called “Cool Tools,” which helped children understand and practice tools to cope with situations of conflict. My favorite illustration of how a mean statement couldn’t be taken back was that it was like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, i.e. it’s impossible to push it back in to the tube.
To further illustrate the mighty force of a PUT DOWN (things said to criticize, mock or attack), the children were taught about the healing potential of the PUT UP (kind words). We all know the difference between the two. What you might not know is that it takes 5 PUT UPS TO HEAL 1 PUT DOWN. I’ll never forget 6-year-old Natalie explaining this to us over dinner one night.
“Wow, that’s a lot of nice things to balance out the not nice things, isn’t it?” I remember saying. “Does it work?” I asked.
She nodded. “One or two don’t work.” She paused a moment. “But it’s really hard to think of five things.”
In fact, the elementary school eventually reduced the “5” to “3” because it was challenging to come up with 5. Still, the idea that it takes more than one apology or one kind statement to cure hurtful words is worth remembering.
I was reminded of the universal application of this wise relationship tool while reading The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin. It turns out that in marriage it is less important to have many pleasant experiences than it is to have fewer unpleasant experiences. Because…our reactions to bad events are faster, stronger, and stickier than our reactions to good events. THEN SHE ADDED SOMETHING THAT SOUNDED AWFULLY FAMILIAR:
It takes at least five positive marital actions to offset one critical or destructive action. 5, not 3!
Rubin goes on to say that “one way to strengthen a marriage is to make sure that the positive far outweighs the negative. When a couple’s interactions are usually loving and kind, it’s much easier to disregard the occasional unpleasant exchange.”
Isn’t this so true wherever we are, whether in marriages, classrooms, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, or on freeways?
This is what I think:
When our interactions in the world are usually loving and kind, it’s so much easier to disregard the occasional unpleasant exchange.