The highest compliment I could give anyone is to say, “I am a better person when I am with you.” This means that you bring out my best self. Your interest in me is genuine. Your conversation is clean and stimulating. You help me see the positive among the negative, the joy inside the sorrow. You help me think my best thoughts—and open up new vistas of my possibilities. You ignite wholesome laughter and delight. You look past my quirky ways and value my soul’s worth. You take “chaff and grain together…and sift them—keep what is worth keeping—and with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away” (Dinah Craik). Your humble, sincere example stands as a beacon, making me want to follow. Thank you for lifting me higher, helping me see myself with new eyes. “I love you, not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you” (Roy Croft). This describes the kind of friend I want to be. It describes the kind of parent, grandparent, sister, daughter I want to be. “There is a responsibility which no man can evade—his personal influence—the effect of his words and actions on others” (David O. McKay).
“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved” (Thomas S. Monson). Years ago when teaching school, I bid my students goodbye and turned with urgency to the mountain of work piled like a tower on my desk. With more to do than reasonably possible, I dove in with gusto. Almost immediately, someone knocked on the door. A colleague peeked in and asked, “Could I talk to you for a minute?” As she pulled up a chair and began a long-winded explanation of her troubles, I put down my pencil and exhaled slowly. I knew it would be much longer than a minute. A nudge of conscience whispered that her need to talk was greater than my need to complete tasks. More than an hour later, I loaded up my work—untouched—and headed for home. But instead of feeling burdened, I felt buoyant and happy. It had been the right thing to do. Hopefully her cup was filled, but I know mine was. I have to keep reminding myself that people are more important than tasks. Most of us are fighting a hard battle and we need each other. Regardless of age, we need to express our concerns, views and hopes. We need genuine interest and honest feedback from others. We need reassurance of our worth. People need people. “I sought to hear the voice of God, and climbed the topmost steeple. But God declared: Go down again; I dwell among the people” (Louis Newman). I want to make time for people. I want to learn their stories, understand their hearts, and reflect their worth.
In high school I was on the debate team and learned to spar with words. The winner had the most persuasive stance, the last word, and left the other team without retort. But outside this arena in our human interactions, there is a different set of rules. What is more important—to prove oneself right, or to preserve another’s dignity and worth? The latter seems obvious. Opinions can be voiced with softening prefaces such as these: “That’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t viewed that perspective before.” “Another way of looking at that issue is…” “ Here’s something else that makes sense to me.” “Yes, I would add to your comment that…” And there’s always this standby: “In my opinion…” With sensitivity, I can ask questions to evoke deeper thought, then pull back and listen without interrupting. Really listen with the intent to understand. Be willing to sacrifice victory at having the last word in order to preserve another’s credibility. It is better to be understated than overstated. A few well-chosen, kindly-spoken words can be more influential than verbal bulldozing to prove oneself right at any cost. These truths can fortify all our relationships—in the workplace, at home with our children, and in our marriages.
When I was a teenager, my father and I had a code word to indicate my need for a private talk. When the cue was given, Dad abruptly stopped his work and we popped in the car for a drive. With eyes facing forward, words seemed to flow easier. At first I unloaded my heartache or injustice—often through a flood of unreasonable tears. Dad listened…and listened…sometimes interjecting a question. He deserved a purple heart for his excruciating endurance to receive my avalanche of words while restraining even a single word of lecture. As I captured feelings into words, I began to understand myself better. My inner storm gradually subsided. Before our “discussion” was over, Dad always offered a suggestion of something to try, a possible action. It wasn’t pitched as, “This is what you should do”—but rather, “Here’s something you might try.” He affirmed his love for me and described some aspect of my worth that I couldn’t see. Climbing out of the car, I felt emptied and filled at the same time—while clutching something concrete to try. And if that plan didn’t work, there were other plans queued up. My father didn’t have training in psychological counseling. But his formula helped me through the rocky terrain of adolescence, and became my desired model for parenting much later. What do you see as the benefits of talking to your teen in the car?
Summer is busy, so here is a super-short reminder for all of us. When I was a teenager, I read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The truths he described so long ago still ring true. Extracted from his book are 6 salient points, recalled from memory in my own words:
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember a person’s name.
- Be a good listener.
- Talk about another’s interests. Get him to talk about himself.
- Highlight and reflect the other person’s strengths.
I want to learn their names…learn their stories…learn their hearts…learn their worth. I want to be “other-centered.”
A minister had not known the deceased man for whom he was to perform a funeral service. So he hurriedly asked the man’s friend to give him a character description. The friend thought for a moment before simply answering, “Well, he really loved his wife.” That’s it? Is that ALL he could say in tribute about his dear deceased friend? But thinking further, I decided that of all distinctions, that one statement encompasses the most important attributes a person can acquire in a lifetime.
How was it so obvious to others that the man really loved his wife? Most likely he demonstrated deference and devotion, kindness and courtesy, fidelity and faithfulness. In a “me-generation” that cries out for finding oneself with all-consuming focus and gratification, these traits are rare and refreshing. In my opinion, learning how to love and how to show love—in every relationship—constitutes the ultimate success in life. The world flashes alluring invitations for selfish thinking, and shouts false definitions of worth and beauty. To detach from these influences and really love one’s spouse through the ups and downs of life—is a magnificent victory—worthy of the highest honor. Alan and I hope to earn the tribute: “They really loved each other” as our greatest acclaim. I smile to imagine our love continuing to grow throughout the eternities, side by side!