My Mother's Voice

Posted on: Tue, 10/01/2019 - 14:00

When I was young, my mother often used certain expressions or idioms to advise me. Her advice is still relevant for children and adults today.

If I ever spoke to my parents or other people with a sassy attitude, I knew the next words from my mother would be the reminder, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." I heard that phrase multiple times and never really pondered the meaning; I just knew that my mom was telling me to use a more appropriate tone with her or others.

At some point, I talked to my mom about the expression. She shared that people are generally more eager to help you or cooperate with you when you are nice (sweet as honey) rather than surly (sour as vinegar).  At first, I figured that meant I had to be polite—if I said please, then I would get the response I wanted. It took me a while to figure out that the expression went far beyond politeness.

When I started to actively practice the meaning behind the expression, I noticed the impact. If I approached people in a pleasant manner, they responded accordingly. This became an important skill for me when I started my first job at a fabric store. When a customer was upset, if I responded with kindness and compassion, it was so much easier to help resolve the concern. If I became defensive in tone, the interaction tended to go downhill.

Many years later, I was working in the Howard County Public School System when Howard County began the Choose Civility campaign. The emphasis on civility reminded me of my mom’s words. Civility is about being kind and polite. It is something we definitely need in the age of social media, where "vinegar" is much more the norm.

Recently, I received an email from a student who was advocating for an important cause. The email was so accusatory and negative. My mom’s voice was immediately in my head. How could I persuade this student that a powerful message was lost in "vinegar"? The student’s advocacy would have been so much more effective if done with a polite and civil tone—just like my mom always reminded me.