A few months ago, I was paid a compliment that I’ve stored away in my heart for safe keeping, and I only pull it back out when I’m feeling sad. I was explaining a tattoo that I was planning on getting (and now have) to a dear friend: the meaning behind it is very personal to me, so I don’t share it often because I don’t always know if it will be received in the way I intend, and I think it’s important to keep some of ourselves to ourselves if that makes sense. But nonetheless, I explained it to this friend. When I was done, he smiled and said as he used his pointer finger to gently tap my forehead, “I like the way this [your brain] works. The way you think is beautiful.”
Sometimes, people say things to us in a way that we can truly receive. Maybe it’s in their phrasing, the timing, the context, the person, or the circumstances – but somehow it presses into our hearts, and we just believe it. This was definitely one of those moments for me. It was something I didn’t know I needed to hear or believe, but even now writing about it feels like I’m sharing one of my greatest gifts.
It feels that way because in that moment I was seen, known, understood, and accepted for who I am. I said something personal, and instead of him replying with “oh, that’s cool,” or doing what many of us do in conversations and turning it back to himself in some way, he took a moment to pause and acknowledge who I am. He honored the good he saw in me. What a rare and beautiful thing to do.
We can create these moments for one another. We can call out the best in each other. We can be agents of discovering the things about someone that make up his or her essence, bring those qualities to the light, and then admire them.
For the ones we already love, this might be an easy and fun challenge as time goes on, to continue to discover new things we adore within them; quirky habits, little mannerisms, concerted efforts, innate kindness, small details about their appearance, the way they make their coffee, how they talk to their mom on the phone, the list goes on and on.
For the ones we find hard to love, this little act can mean even more than we ever realize. Because the ones who are hard to love, often don’t feel very loved at all. Bringing attention to something they put positive effort into can make all the difference and inspire even more good to come.
And to be honest, it doesn’t have to be anything deep or poignant. It can be as simple as saying to a stranger, “you have an incredible smile.” I guarantee you, if I were to ask you right now about a time a stranger made your day, you could recall at least one instance and what they said to you. We have the power to give that gift to someone else.
I’m not talking about some cheesy “let’s change the world one compliment at a time,” kind of thing. I don’t want you to stand on a street corner with a “Free Hugs” sign or for you to start giving out “Life Participation Awards.” I think giving a genuine affirmation is just like everything else: a gift that has to be practiced. Make it about them, not about you. Evoke conversations that make people feel comfortable to reveal a little of who they are to you, then honor it.
Because I firmly believe that if we look for the good in someone, we will find it. It may be buried deep and hard underneath a lot of pain, or it might be beaming out right on the surface. The point is, there’s something in all of us that reflects our creator. The more we celebrate those things, the more space they take up in how we view one another.
The world is doing a fantastic job of highlighting our shortcomings. Everywhere we look, the message of “you’re not enough” is being projected in subtle and not so subtle ways. Don’t add to the noise of criticism. Make it a goal this week to discover and honor something unique in a loved one, a stranger, and someone you find difficult to understand. You might just say something that they lock away and cherish forever.
“At our best, we honor the image of God we see in one another.” – George W. Bush.