It brings to mind a Nasrudin story that I like.
The King was aware that many people in his kingdom were not happy with him. So he asked Nasrudin what he could do to improve his image.
Nasrudin thought for a moment and then asked the king to take a walk with him through the town square.
When they returned back to the palace the King said, “See what I mean? Everybody smiled at you but no-one smiled at me.”
Nasrudin then said quietly to the King, “that’s because I smiled at them first”.
A smile says “I see you”…..”you’re not invisible”. A smile says “I see you as a person, not just an object that happens to be walking past”. A smile says, “I greet you with warmth, not cold indifference”.
But I had an experience recently that made me realize that a smile is not always enough.
I was in a State Park getting ready to go on a hike, when a woman approached me for directions to the trailhead. After giving the directions she needed, our conversation got around to talking about her career as an artist. Knowing that most artists are never far from their work, I asked her if she had an example of her art. She said yes, and proceeded to pull a photograph of a painting she had recently finished from her backpack.
I was amazed. The photo she showed me was the painting of a world-class artist.
I called several people who were nearby to come over to see it. They walked over, looked at the picture, and then went back to the conversation they were having before I had interrupted.
I was dumbfounded. These people were in the presence of an obviously gifted artist and not one person said, “wow” or “that’s amazing” or “how beautiful!”
It was thinking about that experience that led me to the insight that sometimes a smile is simply not enough. If a gifted artist could not get an affirming “wow” out of people for a painting that clearly represented the work of a person who had achieved great mastery in her craft, what chance would the average person, or a child, have to get affirmation?
I began to pay attention.
It was rare that I encountered people willing to offer a “wow”, or “great job” to those around them. For example, I saw a child bring home a good report card…no “wow, nice work!” When the proud owner’s of a new home, gave myself and six others a tour through a home that obviously represented a life long goal and dream for them, they received no “wow, what a beautiful new home!”
I came to realize how few people were able to offer affirmations and “wow’s”. It wasn’t that they were unaware of the need to affirm, it was as if they were afraid the affirmation would be giving away something precious that they had very little of themselves.
In a recent article, I wrote about the unconditional love represented by 9A’s+4 but I recognized that true unconditional love requires more than just empathy, mutuality, physical and emotional holding, and belonging. I needed to add “wow” to the list.
- “wow, that’s amazing”
- “wow, great job”
- “wow, your house is beautiful”
- “wow, you did an amazing job this report card period”
- “wow, nice going, you are a great student!”, “wow, that’s an incredible piece of work, you are an amazingly gifted artist”
We don’t have to be phony or insincere in our praise, or the “wow’s”, we offer others. If we are willing to look, there is “always” something we can find to honestly affirm about another person; some way to let them know we think they are special.
Contrary to what our self-focused primitive ego believes, affirming another person is not taking anything away from us; it does not in some way deplete or diminish us. It does not mean we are less than the other person; or somehow inadequate. It does not mean, “they are going to somehow get all of the attention.
We all experience the inner need to be affirmed, admired, acknowledged, and bask in the attention of others; to have “who we are” stand proudly in the spot-light of warm attention.
So why are we so reluctant to offer that spot-light to others?
I believe that offering affirmations and “wow’s” to those we meet is one of the most important spiritual practices we can embrace if our goal is to be enlightened and offer unconditional love to others.
It may be hard for our primitive ego to do, but our awakened, more enlightened observing consciousness is far more compassionate than the primitive ego of our inner-child. “Wow” is one of those spiritual practices we need to practice until our affirmations become part of who we are.
As they say, “fake it till you make it”. If you do, it won’t be long before affirming others and offering “wow’s” becomes a reflection of your true heart. It’s like learning to hug and love the whole world.
It won’t be long before everyone you meet is smiling.
Why do you think people give a wow so rarely? Leave your comment below. I would love to see your ideas.