By Tim Urness, Alexandria, MN

It is true, I had “those” parents. The parents that promised they would make me wash out my mouth if I ever said anything really mean. As a fourth-grade boy, I tested them to call their bluff. I called my sister Kari “fat.” Yep, straight from my mouth to her heart, I called her “FAT!”

I can vividly recall with eyes wide open watching as my dad squeezed the Dawn dish soap onto my toothbrush and forced me to brush my teeth for one minute. The agony, the taste, the suds....yuck! Obviously, the lesson here is that my parents hoped I cleaned up my words and processed the words I would say and not say such mean things again. Now statute of limitations have long expired so no need for any of you to go and call social services of Winona County on my parents. As nasty as this was, it was a powerful lesson for me to be careful with my tongue and the words that come from my mouth. This many years later I am thankful they did this.

Which leads me to today, and the words I am sharing with everyone I come into contact with. Are my words uplifting and positive? Do my words help people feel better about themselves or do my words tear people apart?

Back in my teaching days we would use the balloon analogy every year. Picture everyone has a balloon above their head. Positive words, thoughts and actions breathe life into that balloon and give energy. Vice versa, words of hurt, anger, and put downs symbolically deflated the imaginary balloon above their heads. Each of us has a balloon above our heads. How full is yours? Is it empty right now? How do you help others with theirs? In a basic sentence to my fifth-graders, I would ask if they want to give people a “put up” or a “put down?”

Sadly, I feel it is becoming common language in our world these days to hear, “In a recently deleted tweet.” Or a screenshot from so and so’s post eight years ago is now coming back to haunt them. Unfortunately, you could easily find too many examples of pro athletes or actors or potential Oscar hosts who have things going along so well – and then someone digs up an old post, tweet or message. This stinks. Why are we saying these words in the first place? What part of “if you have nothing nice to say about someone then don’t say it at all” are they missing?

Am I perfect? Absolutely not. Ask my wife, my kids, my friends, and colleagues. I have said stupid things and am guilty of some put-downs instead of put-ups. But I continue to strive to share words of positivity, hope, and upliftment. Can I help fill the balloon above someone’s head today? We all need positive support from our community – be it from home, work, school, or around town.

Famous Author Rachel Hollis who wrote, “Girl, Wash Your Face” was in Alexandria over a year ago as part of her speaking tour. I haven’t read the book, but seeing the title on our kitchen table gave me the idea for this piece. “Boy, Wash Your Mouth.” I challenge every reader of this article to take it upon themselves to share words that lift and build people stronger. All of us have junky days, weeks and even years where our balloon is flat and empty. If you have some extra air in yours, go out and share it with those around you. Now more than ever our society can use words of hope and encouragement and love.

And if you’re curious about our parenting skills at home, my wife and I have used the Dawn dish soap a time or two for our own children. As much as my kids hated this, I hope in 35 years Christian, Nora or Gracie are able to write a piece in the local newspaper about the cleansing power of that lesson….because now we are “those” kind of parents.

Tim Urness is actively involved in service groups in the Alexandria area. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.