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The Most Important Gift You Can Give

Not long ago, a young man named Tucker came over to my house to give me an estimate on a home repair. I didn‘t have to talk to him for very long before I realized he had a severe stutter. Every third or fourth word he spoke was accompanied with an awkward pause while he struggled to produce the right word. I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was in such a situation, so I just stood there, pretending not to notice while I waited for him to finish his sentence. After a bit, I decided to wade in and ask Tucker about his story.

Tucker told me of his life-long struggle with his speech impediment; how he got teased in school, had to defend himself on the playground, and was stereotyped as the “dumb kid.” After he was grown, he found that his stutter had limited his choice of occupations, since verbal communication is such a big part of the business world. Most of his tale was familiar to me, having seen others suffer with the same affliction. But as he wound up his story, he added something that stunned me.
“A couple of years ago they found a way to completely cure me,” he said, pausing to let the statement sink in. “Yep, for a while there, I was able to speak without stuttering a bit.”
I was dumbfounded. How had they cured him? Why wasn’t he cured now? Was he somehow under the impression that his speech was normal now? I didn’t understand. All I managed to say, though, was, “Tell me about it.”
“Well, the doctor did some tests and I found out that I can speak just fine when I am speaking at the same time with someone else. As long as I hear someone else’s words simultaneously as I speak, I can pronounce them myself without stuttering. So they fitted me with something like a hearing aid that allowed me to hear myself speak and it pretty much eliminated my stutter.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but Tucker was referring to a product developed at East Carolina University called SpeechEasy*. The device has a small microphone, amplifier, and speaker which fits inside the ear. It alters the patient’s voice and plays it back to him slightly delayed so that his mind is tricked into thinking that another person is also talking. A large percentage of people who have tried the device have been able to find relief.
“Yeah, it worked great,” Tucker continued. “It totally eliminated my stutter, but I quit using it after about a month.”
Once again I stood there with my mouth ajar, too stunned to know what to say. “You… you say you were cured with this device but you quit using it? Why would you do that?”
Because of something my mother said,” Tucker replied.
I wondered what words a mother could say that would compel someone who had experienced a medical miracle to walk away and choose instead to be afflicted the rest of his life.

“After I wore it a couple weeks, my mom said she didn’t like the newTucker—that I had gotten too big for my britches and was putting on airs. She said she liked the old Tucker that stuttered much better because he knew his place. The rest of my family started saying the same thing, so I finally took out the gadget and haven’t used it since.”

Tucker was completely oblivious to the negative impact his mom’s words had had on his life. To Tucker, his mom was the voice of authority in his life, so she must know what she’s talking about. If she said he was being arrogant and didn’t like him anymore, then he needed to take the appropriate action to restore his place in his community.
Such is the power of words. Your words are living, active, vital things. They are either tearing down or building up. They are inspiring or discouraging.
Your words shape and mold the people around you. If you speak words of affirmation and encouragement, the people in your life will perform better and rise to meet challenges. If your words are negative, then the people around you will wilt and fade.
If you’re wondering what gifts to give the people in your life this holiday season, try adding a little positivity. Try telling your team members that you appreciate them. Try telling your kids you’re their biggest fan.
Don’t get me wrong. You’re still going to have to buy them a present, but your words are the gift that will change their lives.

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