We need to be told someone else cares, or noticed us. This force is the power of affirmation. Receiving it from others feels good. It validates much of what we do. The word, affirmation, means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for something. It tells you someone else noticed something positive they want to bring to your attention.
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 too 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 had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive compliments, but much slower to hand them out.
The article was not referring to coworkers or family members. 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 hardware store or fast food restaurant, the delivery person who drops off a FedEx package, each 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 social experiment over the course of just a few weeks. I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these folks. The result was immediate. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing over my purchase. 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 usually affirmed me in return. 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 these 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 allows us the little bit of extra time we need to practice affirmation with others. You probably have dozens of chances each day. Even remembering to affirm just one person will be worth the effort. My one week experiment has become a regular habit (when I remember, which isn't everytime, I admit).
I should add, that personal affirmation is a powerful tool for making us feel and function better, too. We all struggle with times of self-doubt. If you'd like to review some tools that can strengthen how you feel about yourself, click here. While I don't agree with all of the ideas, reading the list was empowering. And, the truth is the more secure we feel about ourselves the more likely we are to notice the good in others.