A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an invitation-only, phones-down annual gathering of Smart People Thinking About Big Ideas. In the coming weeks, I’ll have some posts about the Ideas We Thought (and talked) About, but today I want to write about a relatively small component of the gathering that’s been on my mind since I returned home.
The two people who run this event invite about a dozen people to attend. Each year, some are repeats from the previous cohorts (eight years and counting), and some are new. The event is fairly short – two half days, with a full day in the middle – so they have designed their facilitation to build trust quickly so the participants can get real and get deep fast.
My particular cohort this time around was all in from the get-go. Shit got real within the first ten minutes of the initial round of “get to know you” introductions at the very beginning of the event. No one was posturing, it wasn’t about ego – people took the risk of sharing their real selves right from the start.
The facilitators structured the two days with multiple “check-in” points along the way. Each participant could speak a little, or a lot, or not at all. Each participant could share what he was feeling, or she was thinking, or both, or neither. We laughed together and cried together and challenged each other, and there was a decent amount of hugging, of holding someone’s hand, of putting your arm around someone, to offer comfort, or just to say, non-verbally, “I affirm you and what you’re experiencing.”
And for those of us with much experience in the feminist movement or Goddess or earth-based spirituality, those are all pretty familiar processes.
What was less familiar to me – and highly powerful – was something our facilitators called a “check-out.” Our final session, gathered one last time around the fireplace in the main room of the big cabin in the state park before we headed back into town for a farewell lunch and flights out, was a last trip around the circle passing our talking piece – only this time, others had the opportunity to share what they had observed about each person during our time together.
There’s a company out there called Tribute that offers “eulogies for the living” and their key success metric is “tears of joy.” That is, they know they got right when the person being eulogized cries them.
Using that measure, we enjoyed significant success that morning. And it got me thinking.
On a personal level, I realized two things. One, I am very bad at taking compliments (as I suspect many of us are). I was unable to look my fellow participants in the eye when they were saying nice things about me. Two, even in that short an amount of time, those people saw who I really am and when called upon, reflected it back to me in a way that was powerful, and true, and deeply meaningful. Being seen – truly seen – and appreciated for what’s at the core of who one is can be life-changing.
On a larger scale, we don’t invest enough time in telling those we love the truth about the good we see in them. We do fine with “you’re pretty/handsome/sexy” or “you look terrific.” We do fine with “thank you for cooking dinner/completing that report on time/fixing the broken light – you did a great job!” We’re bad at “the way you care about everyone’s feelings and make sure everyone has the space and safety to express them is incredibly moving and important” or “your deep intellectual curiosity about the world around you is inspiring.”
George HW Bush died this week. They knew it was coming, and before he died, at least one of the people who spoke at his funeral was able to read the eulogy he wrote to President Bush. That’s unusual, but it probably shouldn’t be.
Resist the temptation to offer shallow compliments about how your loved ones look or the things they accomplish. Put in the effort to dig deeper and reflect back to them the beautiful truth of who they are.
Image found here.
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