Speak Up or Shut Up? How Do We Appreciate People?

There is such a fine line when it comes to people you value. You don’t want to gush about them very often, if at all, because that freaks people out. Yet at the same time if you come to value someone and keep it to yourself all of the time, they may never know, and may find it easier to waltz right out of your life.

As a writer, I am a man of words in many ways.  And I have suffered the consequences both of saying how much I appreciate someone, and of not saying so. If you are curious, the argument that saying something, even if it doesn’t work, is better than never saying anything just doesn’t hold water. Not with me. Whether it be an unfortunate silence on my part, or a frank expression of appreciation that is not well received, the resultant distance between me and the valued person feels just as shitty.

Nor have I ever been able to swallow the bitter medicine of, “people come into and out of your life at random, and there is no sense getting tore up about it when someone leaves.” That advice to me amounts to “love nobody and nothing, and be ready to die alone.”

So what is the answer when we value someone? I suppose the question is poorly phrased, because the answer for each person is in all likelihood different. I know I haven’t figured out my own answer to the question of safe expressions of appreciation, love, respect, or admiration for others as they come into my life. I usually seem to get it wrong.

I think perhaps we have as a people grown too cynical, too defensive, or too afraid of intimacy for which we are not prepared to accept praise of our personhood. Of our work, sometimes, yes, that we can handle. But when we read an email from someone, and look at them across the dinner table and hear them say things like, “You have a terrific sense of humor, and I don’t laugh enough in life. Thank you for making it easier,” the first thing many of us start to think is, “What do they want,” or “I haven’t known him long enough for that to be appropriate,” or, one of my favorites, “I really don’t feel attracted to you in the same way.” As though each time we express the value we have in someone, there is a motive outside of it.

Maybe actions speak louder than words? Maybe by doing a good turn for someone, we can reassure them of their value in our eyes, without them tweaking over it. That might be one answer. Yet I think even then the doubts and cynicism would remain.

It’s not a science, I realize that. But there has to be at least some pattern I would think. Maybe I have just been in the presence of really uptight people my whole life. I don’t know. I only know that the result of my expressing how I feel about people has eight times out of ten wounded me in such a way that with every passing year I feel less willing to do so. And that can’t lead to anything good, can it?

How do you do it?

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1 Comment

  1. Hmmm, good question. I'm not sure it really has anything to do with being an introvert, though. Except, perhaps we feel the need to tell others when we appreciate them more than extraverts do? Or maybe it's less expected of us to say such things? I don't know.

    In any case, I felt this same urge a lot in my teens. Not so much now. I wonder if that's because I haven't been around as many awesome people, or because I just quit saying anything haha. I think most of the time I've gone with a less direct approach – both because I'm good with the written word and because (I'm loathe to admit) I care too damn much what other people think of me, so I'm generally too cowardly to say it directly to their face, in an actual conversation. So I would write letters, or something like that, where they'd get the message, but I didn't necessarily have to be there, looking at them, or have to think of anything to say immediately after. That usually cuts down on the potential awkwardness.

    Of course, I'm not saying this is the best or ideal method. In fact, my indirect approach may have prevented more than one potential relationship with a guy in my teens. Inconsequential now, but back then it would've made a difference haha.

    One other thing you mentioned really rang true with me – not being able to take a compliment. I have a big issue with that. I've gotten better, but it makes me uncomfortable. Not so much when it comes to something I've accomplished, but the little things bother me. Maybe it has to do with what I consider important or valuable – if someone tells me I'm beautiful and I don't think that's terribly important, I wonder why they're saying it to me. I'm more likely to appreciate a compliment on something I've done at work, or if someone tells me they appreciate one of my core values, like honesty, or whatever.

    Does that help you any? Maybe not haha. But it's just important to find a way to express yourself so that you feel good about it. You can guess at how the other person will think or react, but you'll never really know until you say something. And then it's their choice. I know that's the kind of thing you don't necessarily agree with, but I think it's (generally) true. If someone you like/appreciate/whatever takes issue with you saying so, what does that have to do with you? Nothing. But maybe it means they aren't quite the person you thought they were, or the strength of your friendship isn't what you thought it was, in which case, wouldn't you rather know?

    Also, (last thing – I swear. You'd never know it, but I'm not usually so verbose lol) if your expression of appreciation results in awkwardness, there's no reason you can't fix it. If the other person thinks you have an ulterior motive, or whatever, do your best to assure them otherwise. I just sat through a diversity training video for my new job, so this is fresh in my mind, but if you say how you feel and it doesn't go how you'd hoped, maybe you should approach it in terms of the Platinum Rule: treat others how THEY want to be treated. And if you don't know how someone wants to be treated, just ask.

    Okay, I'm done. Promise. Great post, as usual.

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