Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stumbling into Clarity

Treadmills whirring in tandem, the man and woman were carrying on a lively conversation. I had just entered the gym and settled myself at the weight machine when I overheard them talking about (what I assumed to be) the woman's child. 

The man asked, “…well, did you validate what he said to you?” She replied, “Yes…,” adding some other words I didn’t hear. Their workout over, the couple stepped off the treadmills, continuing their conversation as they walked out the gym doors.

I thought to myself, what a bunch of pop psych talk that is ... validate... Hummph!

One could say I learn life lessons at a snail's pace. However, that snippet of an eight-year old conversation and my reaction to hearing it came back to me last week after I had been in the company of two children, ages 12 and 7.

Recalling our time together, I began to dwell on what it means to be (ta da!) validated for one's actions and the opinions one expresses. 

I realized there were several occasions when I had ignored or dismissed the childrens' comments or judged their responses without first acknowledging or inquiring.

Even though these were simple things, in each case preferences had been expressed and I didn’t inquire about the basis before I proffered my own opinion(s).

In the same way, I now realize how many times (it may appear) I have dismissed another’s comments as I jumped in with my own ideas or my own likes and dislikes.

On a more serious level, there are times when a friend takes us into his confidence, telling us his fears or worries. Wanting to ease his discomfort, and before acknowledging his concerns, we tend to outline the reasons his trepidations are unfounded.

I came to realize how often I have the opportunity to validate another’s preferences, actions, beliefs or feelings and I slide right past, preferring to voice my own thoughts on the matter before asking a meaningful question or attempting to understand.

This is no call to dig and delve into the whys and wherefores of another person’s life, no admonition to be inordinately sensitive, deferential or ingratiating; nor am I positing that validation necessarily means agreeing with or condoning.     

Whether child or adult, when one hangs back from a situation; is open enough to tell us he’s fearful or worried; expresses an opinion different from our own, the kind and the right thing to do is to acknowledge and respect the action or statement—to clarify and validate before we "opinionate.

People may forget what you say or do,

but they will never forget how you make them feel.

~ Maya Angelou