Remember this?

Ever heard of ‘the Pyramid of Learning’? It’s a popular educational model for exploring how much we retain of anything we’re trying to learn.

The usual estimates are that we retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we both see and hear, 70% of what we say and write, and 90% of what we do. As someone who has to produce at least one sermon every week that’s more than a little depressing. All those carefully crafted words, and my listeners only keep 2 in 10 of them – it’s good for my humility!

I certainly recognise the truth of it though. Years ago I started writing a very brief review of every book I read, because I realised that, 6 months on, all I could say was ‘Well, I know I enjoyed it’ or ‘I wouldn’t read that again.’ Meanwhile, when my sons coaxed me back on to a bike last summer, for the first time in decades, I found I still knew perfectly well how to ride and returned home happily unscathed.

I recently, however, came across a quote which I will try very hard to remember and to put into practice – and perhaps now, by writing about it, the words will become fixed in my memory. Maya Angelou said: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

That certainly rings true for me as I can instantly recall, and shudder at, occasions I’ve been cast down by someone who has embarrassed or shamed me; and can immediately smile as memories resurface of feeling encouraged or protected or enthused by someone.

It’s a particularly important lesson to learn and retain for anyone who seeks to be a positive witness to a loving God. Clever words, however long I’ve sweated over choosing them, will rarely, ultimately, make a difference to anyone. The words have to be backed up with sincerity, attentiveness, and kindness, so that people can experience, can feel that they are truly cared for and that they matter.

Not everyone was called to be a teacher, fretting over how to help our students learn, but all of us have frightening power when it comes to how we can make others feel. May we use it wisely.

Revd Kate McFarlane