I'm a junkie. I need at least one fix a day to stay happy. If I don't get what I need from you I might turn to someone else. I've had this need forever and I can't lose it. Frankly, I don't want to lose it.
I've just described me, probably you, and virtually everyone you have ever met. We are all junkies for affirmation. We can't get enough of being told good things about ourself. We need the strokes. We need to be told someone else cares. What we do must be noticed or we'll sulk and pout. I'll freely admit that nice comments left on my blog make my day. The affirmation feels good. It makes me believe the time I put into writing is worth it.
Affirmation means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for his personality or talent. It means to tell her she is doing a good job, or is important in your life. Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful, and needed. So, if this is a deep seated need we all have then why is it rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question. I've given this topic some extra thought since my small group from our church recently had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive complements, but much slower to hand them out.
About a year ago I was prompted by something I read somewhere that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what I read or even what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives. The article was not referring to coworkers or family members, church friends or regular contacts. It was taking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.
The clerk who rings you up at the fast food restaurant or drops off a FedEx package is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The fellow who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).
See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.
I started a very small social experiment. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these invisible folks. The result was stunning. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing me a package. A delivery person thanked me for my business. The invisible person in front me became instantly real. He had been affirmed. And, he or she started affirming me back. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.
Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated the invisible people like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.
Retirement has allowed me to find new sides of myself. A satisfying retirement requires learning and growing (maybe growing up). It is a process that won't stop until I take my final breath, hopefully many years from now. There is a lot of affirming I must catch up on.