In the past few years, the word “influencer” has entered people’s vocabulary. Looking up a few definitions on Google, the clearest is “a social media influencer is a user who has established credibility in a specific industry, has access to a huge audience and can persuade others to act based on their recommendations. They must simply capitalize on a niche to attain widespread credibility.”
While the idea of a social media influencer is something that has arisen in this past decade, the idea of influence has been with us since time immemorial. Look at the Biblical story of Moses. He got to influence the Egyptian pharaoh, and not without great pains, to let the Israelites go.
Influencers are teachers, parents, mentors and friends. We are often shaped by their opinions and beliefs. Think back to your childhood, playing dress-up resulted in raiding Mom and Dad’s closet, pulling out their shoes, ties and aprons.
With the immediate media, I have seen more influence from those who are far away, sitting behind a keyboard or a news desk.
Recently, Lara Spencer, a morning co-host on “Good Morning America,” joked about the 6-year-old Prince George taking ballet class. The uproar was phenomenal.
When I worked for a previous publication, I spent time with the Kansas City Ballet and their artistic director, Devon Carney. He spent about 20 years as a male lead for ballet companies, performing all over the world. He was thoughtfully furious in his Facebook post, “No adult has the right to mock the choices of an impressionable young mind. These sorts of moments can have a lifelong negative indelible affect.”
Hard on the heels of her joke, Lara Spencer apologized, but that got me thinking about how much those of us as adults can influence kids. I thought about word choices and I thought about Devin Carney’s words about mocking a perceptive and sensitive young child or teenager. Those words can have a lasting impact.
Words have power, plain and simple. Words can lift a child up and encourage them to seek new heights or those blasting syllables can destroy the spirit.
I thought about whether or not Prince George is insulated from television talk show hosts and other pundits. Sure the child lives part of his life under the microscope of others. After all, the majority of people, worldwide, have some fascination with the British royal family.
Personally, I hope his parents were able to shield him from those harmful, thoughtless words. When I worked for an arts magazine in town, I spent time with male dancers. They are strong and poetry in motion. I would not dare to cast negative words. I know for a fact that these dancers as well as their female counterparts can have incredible career-ending injuries that mirror football players. Even hinting that what they do daily is not tough is delusion. Calling them effeminate names is even worse.
I know firsthand what words a teacher uses can diminish a student. I had a stellar art teacher in elementary school. She encouraged everyone and gave praise to all of us. I knew I would never be the next Andrew Wyeth, but I enjoyed art class. In middle school, I had an art teacher who told me to give up art so I did.
Only in the past years have I started anything creative again with knitting and jewelry making.
So whether it’s a young boy who wants to take dance or a small girl who enjoys painting, we adults, especially those with any semblance of influence, need to be careful with our word choices. If constructive criticism is necessary, let it be truly constructive.
Remember, kindness is music to the ears of listeners and angry words can lead to an infection of the spirit.