, Port Arthur, Texas

May 23, 2013

Kind words make everything better

Donia Caspersen Crouch
The Port Arthur News

— “You are looking good!” That’s what I say to the tree in my front yard that’s loaded with fuzzy green fruit.

It is so laden with peaches that a couple of branches are cracking under the weight.  With the help of 2 by 4’s, the highly praised fruit should make its due date sometime in late June. Hopefully, the harvest will be sweet and juicy.

Holding on to that hope, I walk around the tree a few minutes every day, proclaiming in a velvety voice. “Thank you for growing into peaches that will drip down my chin and stain my white blouses!”

Every living thing benefits from positive words.  I learned that during my first Science Fair. My fifth grade project was a comparison between two pots of ivy.  I wanted to see if sound would influence growth.  

The plants were rooted in the exact same type of soil and they received equal amounts of light and water.  Everything about them was the same except one thing.  For six weeks, one plant was serenaded by a radio station with smooth talking DJs and classical music while the other plant was subjected to total silence. In the end, the plant that got the talk and tunes was 2 inches taller than the other one. My exhibit earned an A.

Animals also thrive under the influence of encouraging words.  Some people talk more to their dogs than their spouses. Our daughter chatted up her fish every time she walked past the tank. She was convinced those 2 Beta fish recognized her voice.

Of all living creatures, kids seem the most susceptible to positivity. Whenever our children brought pinch pots and clay sculptures home from art class, I gushed as if they were the next Picassos.

As a teacher, I see how compliments bring out the best even in difficult students. If someone is told he is smart (or dumb) often enough, he will ultimately begin to believe it. For middle schoolers who are cynical by nature, the flattery has to be clever and unconventional. For preschoolers, almost anything said with a smile does the trick.  “Look at you”, I remark as the little ones cross the classroom threshold. “Your shoes are on the right feet today!”

Compliments are my way of changing the world. They won’t eliminate homelessness or world hunger, but they can upgrade the day for all of us. Pretty eyes, a sassy haircut, an interesting tattoo; everyone has something worthy of comment if only we will take the time to notice.

When our daughter was a toddler, I took her on countless bike rides. From the child seat bolted over the rear wheel of my ten speed, she heard me shout hello to every gardener and garbage man that we passed.

“Why do you talk to strangers, Momma?” she asked. “I want them to know we appreciate them”, I explained. From then on, she did the talking: “We appreciate you!” the three year old called out as we rode by. The smiles on the faces of the workmen made all of us happier.

The first time I visited New York City, I brought southern hospitality along with me. Drawling hellos to everyone I passed, I got absolutely no response. On my second day in the city, a cab driver educated me. Making eye contact with strangers in this city does not always end well. Okay, so forget trying to make friends in The Big Apple. But here in the Lone Star State reaching out to people on the street is a highly acceptable form of behavior.

The people most in need of kind words are often the last ones to receive them.  I’m thinking about family when I say that. How many times have I come home from work with nothing but a long face and complaints about what a bad day I had? Home is the best place to start offering kindness and compliments. Remember that gifts of these kinds don’t cost a thing.  In fact, they make us richer every time we give them away. I’ve also learned that compliments are contagious. You can catch one today.

Donia Caspersen Crouch was raised in Southeast Texas and lives in Austin. Contact her at