Affirmation is a very powerful action. We all know how good it feels to be affirmed by someone for something we have done or said or written. The person affirming us is making a statement about our worth or competence in some area.
I have a friend who is a world class affirmer. He can find something to praise about anyone at any time. Importantly, he is completely sincere. He doesn't say something just to make the other person feel good, but because he truly believes the affirmation he is offering.
He got me thinking about the amazing power of affirmation and how easy it is to make someone else's day with little effort on our part. I try to emulate his example whenever I can. I will be the first to admit I have been a poor affirmer in the past. My family sometimes jokes that my empathy was removed at birth. But, I have been working on getting better. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Two months ago I wrote about the end of Saturday delivery for mail by the Postal Service in No Mail for You! It was a straight forward piece of writing that talked about the unfairness of a system that forces the Post Office to preform a service without giving it the resources to do so. It generated many more comments than I would have expected. Why? Because those who left their thoughts and my follow up comments were highly supportive of postal workers and the service they provide under very trying circumstances. In essence, the post became a good example of affirmation.
Sometime last year Betty and I happened to be at our neighborhood park. It is large, always busy, and always clean. I wandered by one of the fellows who was emptying a trash can and straightening a picnic table. I remarked how well maintained the park is and we appreciate his efforts. The smile I received in return was as bight as the noon day sun. You would have thought I'd given him a winning lottery ticket. A simple heartfelt comment cost me 5 seconds but probably made his day. I imagine a park worker rarely gets complimented, but for a job well done, why not?
Engaging in pleasant conversation with a checkout clerk is another easy way to affirm someone who rarely gets that type of positive stroke. Rather than treating that person as invisible, say something pleasant or compliment the store's selection or.... it almost doesn't matter. Being treated like a fellow human being by acknowledging his or her presence in a positive way is painless but has tremendous power.
Betty and I will go out of our way to interact with a particular clerk at the grocery store we frequent. Even if another line is shorter we will almost always spend the extra time, just because it seems to make her day. We are on a first name basis with each other. She tells us about her problems while we share ours. She enjoys bantering with me as I give her a tough time about almost everything. She beams when she sees us each week and always says she will see us next week. Of the hundreds of people each day who watch her ring up their food purchases, can you imagine how good she would feel about her job if even 10-15 of those customers talked with her and complimented her with a simple "thank you" and wished her well?
Have you ever said something to the person who picks up your trash? If I am outside when the truck comes by I make it a point to simply smile and salute the driver with a quick wave of my hand. A library worker who is re-shelving books deserves a quick thanks for how well the library is run or how glad you are it is now open longer hours.
One of the worst jobs has to be an office worker or receptionist in a doctor's office. All day long they deal with people who are sick or in pain. They have to hear horror stories about insurance companies and rising premiums. Of course, it isn't their fault. Treat them with respect as professionals doing the best they can in a broken system. Heavens, even many doctors would benefit from a little affirmation. They didn't design the system that forces them to see 10 patients an hour just to stay in business.
It comes with different names, like random acts of kindness. But, in its simplest form it is treating another person the way you'd want to be treated. Affirmation and recognition of a job well done are powerful weapons in the war against incivility.
Our society needs all the warriors we can muster in this battle.