May 12, 2017

A Force That Powers the World

Most of us are junkies for this. We thrive on at least one fix a day to stay happy. We have had this need since we were toddlers. We are junkies for it. We like being told good things about who we are. We need the strokes. 

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.

A while ago I was prompted by something I read 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. 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.


20 comments:

  1. Great thoughts, thank you, we need more kindness in our world.

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    1. And following this suggestion is free and costs only a few seconds of our time!

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  2. I just love this blog. I've read it for a year and now I'm 3 years from retirement in 2020. I can imagine continuing to read it years after retiring!

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    1. Thanks, CynicDC, and yes, I hope you stay right where you are. I try to cover topics that can appeal to both pre-retirees and those of us well into our third stage of life.

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  3. I have been told by many people that we Hoosiers are just that way. We talk to those invisible people in order to get to know them even if we do forget it before the day is over. The vast majority of my life has been spent in Indiana so maybe that is why I do it. I am more likely to notice the waiter serving me than the speaker at the podium. Maybe we are unique in that regard; I don't know?

    Anyway, great post Bob and it is just what I needed to hear today.

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    1. I'm glad it hit you at the right time, RJ. With our world being rather tense at the moment, this is one way each of us can calm the troubled waters just a bit.

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  4. You've described "aloha" and we encounter it constantly here on Kauai. That aloha spirit is present in phone calls with locals, in person, and with strangers on the beach. It's everywhere and very real, not just a slogan to lure tourists.

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    1. That's probably one of the reasons Hawaii is my favorite spot on earth. After more than a dozen visits it just feels like home when I step off the plane. The ohana attitude and aloha spirit it, as you note, very real.

      Betty and I are planning on a trip to Kauai next year. We have island fever!

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  5. Someone asked country singer Loretta Lynn what was doing now and she replied, "Just trying to matter." Isn't that what we all hope for? To matter. Reaching out can be as simple as offering a smile. Working in health care, I was always reminded that no one role was more important than the other; each member of the health care team had a role to play and true to the gestalt theory, together we were bigger and better.

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    1. As my little display on the blog says, "Together we can achieve more." Your "together we were bigger and better" is in the same vein. It just takes being aware of our impact on others.

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  6. This reminds me of a saying I learned ages ago...People enter our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. The key is not allowing some of those folks to become invisible. We all do it, I know, and I try to be more aware but am not always successful. Mindfulness! That's the key.
    b

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    1. I had the chance to put this into practice just an hour ago. Betty and I were out to lunch with friends. For whatever reason there was only one waiter trying to serve 20+ tables. He was really overwhelmed; it took almost half an hour to get our check and get the credit card back.

      As we were leaving I passed him, said thanks and "take a deep breath. The lunch rush will be over soon." He smiled (first time the whole time we were there) and thanked me back. It took me 10 seconds but let him know we were aware of his predicament. You are so right: mindfulness, that's the key.

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  7. Well done Bob. The practice will bring you more joy than you give but that is ok too.

    By the way, your link on the comment my blog did not work. Just a heads up!

    b+

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    1. Affirming others does rub off on the giver!

      Thanks for the head up on the link. Maybe I misspelled something. That's OK.

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  8. Excellent thoughts! This is something I try to do but not enough I'm sure. However when I do remember to take that small, extra effort to give a kind comment and a smile I always feel quite rewarded for my efforts!

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    1. Thanks, Bonnie. Yes, it really is being aware every time we are with someone. But, that is much easier said than done.

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  9. Small kindnesses. I worked for a company with about 500 people. Every day each one of us was greeted, with a handshake, and an encouraging word for the day. At the end of the shift, same thing. I knew the owner. I asked him, after about six months, why the practice? He said, "Everyone of these people pull their pants on the same as me every day and come to work. The least I can do is thank them, even through someone else, for coming and helping me. From the President of the country to the person sweeping the street, everyone needs encouragement." His favorite thing to do? (Remember I grew up in Phoenix) He would freeze water bottles over night the day before the dumpsters were taken and have them taped to the front of the dumpster with a note thanking them for their work. I carry on that practice with my mailman and garbage collectors even today.
    Thank you for reminding me that every person out there is helping me live a better life.

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    1. Water bottles in the summer in Phoenix are not just a kind gesture, they are lifesaving necessities for the homeless and street people. How many of us casually drink a bottle and toss or recycle it without understanding what a blessing that simple bottle is? Great story about your boss (both the handshakes and water bottles). Thanks, Janette.

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  10. So true. And one other thing. Sometimes in the rush of life we forget to affirm those people who we see every day, who we love but occasionally take for granted. So today and every day, following your advice, I'm going to remember to say something nice to all my friends and family.

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    1. Especially on Mother's Day to the mother of your children and your own mom, whether living or not, for all she did for you.

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