Given the current political climate, it can be hard to believe that the small acts of our lives can make a difference. I too woke up the morning after the election swimming in a sense of helplessness. How could I keep writing now? Then I remembered something.
At an event some months ago I was listening to a poet read but something distracted me out of my peripheral vision. A friend and mentor who was sitting beside me was fidgeting in that certain way disabled folks know means you are trying to hide being in pain. Concerned but not wanting to draw attention I scribbled a message in the form of a poem on the back of my program and offered it to him. When he passed it back to me with editing marks I was sure he didn’t understand. I questioned him in private after the show and the answer changed everything. “You made me feel seen. That made me feel human.”
That quote woke me up from the fear induced paralysis brought on by the election. We may not be able to make huge changes today.
But, if we can make people feel seen and acknowledge their humanity that is reason enough to keep going. That will make change. Here are five ways to start.
In difficult times, it is easy to pull away from interacting with others. Sometimes we have to do this for self care. But there is danger in only taking the time to connect with people when they anger us. When we intentionally and actively look for something positive to acknowledge in one another we are much more likely to find it.
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2.Pop the thought bubble:
This one is going to sound obvious. Just thinking something will not reach anyone. Often even if we see something positive in someone or a pain we can acknowledge we are too fearful to do so. Getting past that fear is a big part of making change.
3.Give unusual compliments:
We can never know how what we say affects another person. However, the things others seem to remember are the ones they don’t hear often. Part of being observant is you might notice something that can’t be seen with just a glance. Complimenting what others might not think to look for will make it all the more unique to the person and make a more intimate connection. Whether it is a small piece of jewelry they are wearing, a book they are reading, or how a certain color compliments their eyes non-cookie cutter compliments will make them feel like they were worth paying attention to.
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4.Ask open ended questions:
Starting conversations that don’t feel surface and stale can be tricky. I’ve learned it is all about the questions you ask. Most of us start with something that can only have a simple answer. Are you from around here? Hot isn’t it? These questions will kill a connection because they don’t give the person room to respond in a way that’s important to or unique to them. It might sound strange to look at a conversation like this but functioning with this kind of intention tells people “What you have to say is interesting and valuable to me.” If we can apply that to getting to know people, we have a better chance that they will feel truly seen and heard. Start with questions that have more than a yes or no answer. Some of my favorites include: What book do you wish everyone would read? What song have you gotten stuck in your head recently? If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life what would you pick? Feel free to come up with your own just make sure it’s open ended.
5.Hear about their passions:
Questions like the ones above are a great opening to find out what people are excited about. For me nothing makes me feel like a person wants to know me more than if they give me a chance to talk about what I love. If the person is a writer win their heart with questions about what they are writing about right now. If the person is into music give them a chance to tell you about their favorite artist or album. I have a friend studying to be a clergyman. I’m not religious. He knows this. But if I say “Do you think you can be Christian and a scientist? or How do you feel about this issue in the church?” he knows I am looking to connect to what matters to him. Being willing to show interest in a person’s passions opens them up and makes them feel like they have something special to offer.
It can be hard to feel like these small choices and shifts toward intentionality are enough. When the challenges are so large and cruelty is so loud. However, it is small steps like these that are the foundation for community. In times of uncertainty change is slow and painful. Communities will sustain us while we chip away at whatever mountain is in front of us. I too am frustrated at how difficult the boulders will be to move. But, choosing to show up for each other is the difference between difficult and impossible. I challenge you to keep showing up, even if it is all you can do.
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[Feature Image: A black and white photo of a crowd walking outside a city street with their backs to the camera. Pexels.com]