I was reminded today, for the 100th time, of a truth I’ve known for 20 years: others see us so differently than we see ourselves. And why we must tell other people the good we see in them.
Around the same time I discovered how self-perception differs from other’s perceptions, I also believed I should start telling people the good thoughts I had about them. I gave it a try and my friends seriously believed I was suicidal. This is not a tasteless joke. It was the college years, and we were heavily influenced by classes like Psych 101. This class, in particular, opened the door to many a diagnoses for everyone in our social circle. So my friends were only being diligent students when they referenced the unit of Psych 101 that lists the warning signs of suicidal people. One being, that they make amends or start letting people know that they love them before they’re gone. So telling my friends the qualities I admired in them, naturally meant I was contemplating taking my life.
My outpouring of love was followed by what felt like a somewhat impromptu intervention during a car ride to the mall. Was I OK? Was I having dark thoughts? All this worry over me because I expressed the qualities I found stellar in my closest friends. The topic was put to bed and I backed off on making what seemed like creepy observations of the people in my life. Until I just couldn’t help myself.
There was a girl I knew in middle school and high school whose mature wisdom rang in the back of my head for years. After graduation, we lost touch, but the words she gave me on days when I was down seemed to be timeless nuggets of advice that applied to my adult life as well as the teen years. Secretly, I always hoped I would have the chance to thank her and tell her what an impact she had on me. And this right here is why ya gotta love Facebook: bringing people together across space and time so they can give props where props are due.
Not long after “friending” this woman, I sent her a private message with my thanks for being the type of person I considered a role model in my younger years. Her response was one of shock and disbelief. She confessed that those years were bleak for her and she hardly remembered feeling happy, let alone dropping wisdom bombs that blew my mind. She confirmed for me again, that other people see the things in us, that we make our own eyes blind to.
That exchange wasn’t the last time it happened. I experienced the phenomenon again and again as I shared with people what seemed to me their obvious strengths. Which is why I realize, more than ever, we should tell people the light and love we see in them. Telling someone the greatness you notice may give them the courage to believe something about themselves that they were keeping hidden — a piece of them that they wanted to accept, but couldn’t. Or something they had totally overlooked and never considered noteworthy.
We don’t always show all of ourself, which is why we can be shocked that others see so much badassery. But we need to hear these things to remember what makes us who we are, and what we mean to other people. It’s a reminder that we are all so very different, which is important and beautiful; yet we are all so much the same, which is comforting and affirming.
With the start of this New Year, make a new habit. Become compulsive about sharing the good you see in those around you. Call them, text them, tell them over cookies and champagne — just don’t keep it to yourself. It will always mean more than you think it will.
Photo credit: billknock
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