How To Earn Respect and Power, Kids

How To Earn Respect and Power, Kids May 13, 2008

Yesterday, at Jamul Intermediate School, in Jamul, California, I spoke to fourth and fifth graders about writing.

If you are one of those kids: Hi, kid! Thanks for having me out at your school yesterday! Not that you had a choice! Still, you were very polite, and laughed at all my jokes, and asked intelligent, fun questions, and in general helped me to have an all-around fabulous time.


Here’s the gist of that again:

Power and respect. That’s what writing well can get you — and nothing can get you more power, and more respect, from more people, than knowing how to write. That’s why you’ve been learning about writing from the moment you started school: It’s that important. If you don’t know how to write well, it will be way too easy for people to think you’re stupid. Not knowing how to write well doesn’t make you stupid, but people can’t help but think that it does. If someone sees something you wrote that’s sloppy, difficult to read, and filled with mistakes, they will  think you’re stupid. At the very least, they’ll think you’re uneducated. And in your life, you do not  want people thinking you’re stupid or uneducated. Because then they might not respect you as much as you want them to.

It’s hard  to get people’s respect; that’s one of the main reasons respect is so valued. You really have to earn respect. When you write well, you show people that you’ve already done the work it takes to earn their respect. And they’ll willingly give you their respect, too, because what your good writing proves to them is that you have a good mind.

If people can’t respect your mind, they can’t respect you at all. The only way people know you at all  is through what they know of your mind. Even if you want to be a famous athlete, it’s not what you can do with your body that people will respect: it’s what, through the power of your mind, you made your body do that people will respect. The quality of a person always comes down to the quality of their mind. You want people to know you’ve got a good mind, a mind that’s done things, a mind you’re proud of, a mind they should respect. The best  way to communicate that is through writing.

There are only two ways to let people know what you think: talking, and writing. You’ve learned how to talk. Now you must learn how to write.  

If you write well, you can have any future you want. You can go to any college you want. You can have any job you want. You can live anywhere you want. If you don’t know how to write — if every time you write something it comes out looking like something that someone who is stupid or uneducated wrote — then, as soon as you’re out of high school, you’re going to end up doing what people who can’t write well always get stuck doing, which is having to take a terrible job working terrible hours for terrible pay with a terrible boss.

You don’t want that. A rotten job is an awful thing. But that’s what you will  be stuck with if you don’t give people a very clear reason to know you deserve better.

Being able to write — a good school essay, a good college paper, a good email, a good letter — gives you power in your life. And you want all the power in your own life you can possibly get, so that you have all the choices in your own life that you could possibly want.

A person is as free in life as they have choices in life. That’s why prison is so bad: Prisoners have less choices in their lives than anyone else in the world. That’s what makes prison so punishing: No choices.

You want choices! You want freedom! You want respect! You want power!

Knowing how to write well is the only thing you can do that guarantees that throughout your life you can have as much of those three things as you could possibly want.


(If you know of a kid whom you think could benefit from the above Big Advice, please forward the url of this blog post to them and/or their parents. Thanks.)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Being able to articulate your thoughts well is so valuable. I've found it to be worth making the effort to do it well (or at least the best I can), and to keep improving.

    I had a professor who once said "Education opens doors." I think that's true of writing (and several other life skills). Not that it guarantees success or makes you any better than anyone else as a person…but it gives you more opportunities to choose from.

    Like you said, John–freedom and choices.

  • Yes! Learning to write well is so important. I am glad you are spreading the message to kids.

  • arlywn

    plus, writing is fun. Especially if you’re a fiction writer. Then you get to play will the vampires, werewolves, pixies and witches all the time.

  • John,

    Awesome, excellent post that will say to my son, 10, what I’ve been trying to say since he started school.



  • Thanks, guys. I appreciate each of these responses. (Sam, lemme know if your son really reads it, and what he says/thinks of it.)

    Skerrib: I ready your recent posts about snake encounters. Too weird! BUT WHAT THE HECK IS GEOCACHING???? (And nice dress, by the way. Very froo-frooey.)

  • OH man…geocaching is my latest favorite hobby. I’m a geocaching dork.

    In a nutshell it’s treasure hunting with a GPS. I posted on it here:

    and here:

  • Elizabeth

    As usual, JS, you are right on target with this article. Great advice to kids… But for that matter, it’s also great advice to adults! Nothing turns me off to a person or company more than to read a newspaper headline that uses poor grammar or to read a blog response with misspellings and poor grammar. What surprises me most is that so many of these folk are supposedly “educated” people (and some have multiple degrees)… Makes me wonder what kind of universities we have here that would actually graduate people who can’t write or spell!

    Hope the play is going well. Now that my recital is over, things are slowing down for me on the music front… at least for a little while. 🙂 That just means that HH and I get to spend more time working on the yard and doing some spring cleaning.

    Take care!

  • That was a truly good post (amongst all your other good posts, lol). I was studying Education as a postgrad degree in Perth, and I found that many of my uni mates couldn’t spell nor construct a sentence properly. And yes, they were soon-to-be teachers, mind you! I used to think all Caucasians from English-speaking countries were masters in the English Language, but it was a sobering time when my partner had to ask me how to spell “exercise”, in front of a Year 2 class during a practicum. Needless to say, she started looking “less competent” in my eyes, whether I liked it or not. I couldn’t help it! -wails-

  • bluejeans101

    wow, that’s a wrap!

  • Dan Harrell


    I learned this lesson far too late in my life. In my 60’s now, I always liked to read but it wasn’t until recently that I found I actually enjoyed writing a blog. I wish I had more time to learn the craft of writing. I’m glad I found your blog, even if by accident. I enjoy everything you write.

  • Hey, guys! I’ve only a moment (dad’s visiting today, so off to airport!), but I really want to thank you for these comments. It’s good for kids to read these real comments from real adults, so they can see … well, that it’s not just me saying what I’m saying. Sweet.Thanks.

  • John,

    My son, 10, burst into laughter at the second paragraph, especially the “not that you had a choice” part.

    He agreed with what you wrote and said the last part reminded him of the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program he just finished.

    He’s taking the post in to show his teacher (I printed it out for him).

    Good job at positive reinforcement, John.

    Now we know if the writing gig doesn’t work out you can always become a D.A.R.E. officer.

    God’s peace and love to you and your dad as ya’ll spend time together.


  • covercritic

    I agree wholeheartedly. Since my college graduation, I’ve encountered very few people who know how to write well. Though I now work in an industry completely unrelated to my degree (B.A. in English), I have found my writing skills to be indispensable.

  • Absolutely John 😉

  • Dena

    I teach a course in persuasive thinking and writing at my university, and most students could not care any less about writing skills. It’s so frustrating! I have tried explaining the link between bad writing and assumptions of idiocy (far less articulately than your essay), but to little or no avail. Thank you for starting at the 4th grade level…maybe if we catch them young, they’ll “get it.” Love your blog!

  • Amen! I’m gonna make my daughter read this tonight. I have been so busy at work I haven’t had a moment to blog or read a blog, but I’m glad i took a breather to stop through and read this! *Whew* that was a mouthful! But I’m in a rush and approaching a work related deadline so I don’t have the time for breathing… excellent Post! See you in a week.

  • Amen! I’m gonna make my daughter read this tonight. I have been so busy at work I haven’t had a moment to blog or read a blog, but I’m glad i took a breather to stop through and read this! *Whew* that was a mouthful! But I’m in a rush and approaching a work related deadline so I don’t have the time for breathing… excellent Post! See you in a week.