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?