Today did not start well.
Although I stopped short of kicking the cat (just kidding; I don’t have one), this morning was a mishmash of exasperating teenagers, uncooperative technology, cancelled client appointments, unsolicited phone calls (no, I really don’t want free replacement windows, no matter how close the agent is to my house) and a mysterious invasion of fruit flies in my kitchen.
Let’s just say that by midday, if that mythical cat did exist, it would have beaten a hasty retreat in the face of my thunderous mood.
And then I received an email. Not just any email but one from a dear lady who I first met many years ago and who I very occasionally meet for lunch. Modesty prevents me from revealing its contents but let’s just say that it was highly complimentary not just of my work, but of me personally. The message was unexpected, charming and heart-warming – and instantly my mood changed. Instead of feeling annoyed, frustrated and ready to snap, I felt good. Really, really good
This got me thinking about the power we have to affect other people’s lives, both positively and negatively. Our words and actions can break or build, hurt or heal depending on how we choose to use them. In a world where the volume dial on those things that generate discord, hate and envy sometimes seems set so much higher than on those things that inspire unity, peace and love, we have a choice in how we utilise that power
Sometimes it takes very little for us to generate that feel-good feeling in another. It may be a random act of kindness or a sympathetic word or two. Occasionally it can be because you said nothing at all and instead gave the gift of silence in place of a hurtful retort. Feeling good is like balm to the soul and if you can be the creator of that which heals instead of that which hurts, therein lies your power for awesomeness
The late Maya Angelou said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Which would you prefer to be? A replacement window salesperson intent on pushing something onto someone who clearly doesn’t want or need it and thereby not just wasting your time and theirs, but actively creating frustration, irritation or anger? Or someone who takes the time to say or do something that impacts positively on another? I know which one I would choose.
As people, no matter which label of age we wear on our backs, we all have an innate need for validation and, to some extent at least, approval. What perhaps the lovely lady behind the email didn’t realise was the extent to which her words had the power to make me feel better. This ‘feel-good factor’, in turn, gave me the power to do better. By hearing what at least one person believed I was capable of, instead of emoting angry vibes and generally feeling victimised by the world, her words completely changed my attitude. Buoyed by the genuine warmth and admiration she expressed towards me, I went from disempowered bad-tempered to re-energised badass.
This change in mindset led to gracious replies to my apologetic clients who emailed to reschedule their last-minute cancellations, as well as more compassionate responses to my teenagers’ dramas. A suddenly silent phone (okay, I took it off the hook) and half a can of insect spray later, my world was restored to rights.
Can you make someone feel good today? Go ahead, it’s worth a try.
Frances Williams: Editor of ReConnect Africa and CEO of Interims for Development
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