“Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.”
– Alexander Smith
The words we use and the appreciation we share matter profoundly.
Offered negatively, they serve as leverage to drive others further down, to decrease engagement and to divide teams. Offered positively, they work as a propellant to lift others up, to increase engagement and to unify teams.
This truth is revealed in organizations, on athletics fields and within families. Recently I witnessed the possibility of recognition to change lives from a most unlikely source.
A principal from a small elementary school that straddles the border of Kansas and Colorado asked if we’d work with them to shift attitudes resulting from a specific challenge they faced. One of their middle school students was born with many of her organs on the outside of her body. The doctors were stunned she survived birth. Today, she lives with significant damage to her heart, kidneys, intestines and stomach.
This little girl has endured enormous physical challenges, faces significant health issues and will have increased difficulties going forward. In spite of this, she had never shared with others just how traumatic her injuries are. Because she acts differently and misses so much school, many classmates have given her a hard time. The principal hopes that through our time together, the students’ attitudes toward this little girl will change; the little girl’s mother hopes her daughter’s attitude toward herself would change.
When the program began I asked if one person could change the world. The students universally agreed that one person could. Then I asked if they could be the one person who could change the world.
They weren’t convinced they could.
So I shared my story of ordinary individuals – siblings, parents, announcers, staff, and even middle school students – who radically changed my life. I reminded them that one person changes the world when she boldly, faithfully and courageously fights for causes bigger than herself. Finally, I shared that the courage revealed in this story is just a fraction of the courage demonstrated everyday by one of their classmates.
I talked about the little girl, her bravery, all she had been through, how she was one of my heroes – and then asked her to stand up so we could all recognize her courage. From the middle of the bleachers, haltingly, came this sweet little girl with long red hair and glasses. She got down to the floor, walked toward me and turned to face several hundred classmates. These students – just kids – leapt to their feet and gave her a rousing standing ovation that lasted more than two minutes. The little girl wept.
We all did.
The recognition she received may not change her life or her health, but it certainly brought immense joy and satisfaction that will remain with her in spite of coming trials. It certainly proved to her that once the other students better understood her challenges they could be compassionate and loving. It certainly had a tremendous impact on me – it’s a moment I will never forget.
Recognition is free to give and the payoff is incredible joy for the individuals being celebrated.
So send him the note, make the call, compliment her publicly and tell their manager what an incredible job they do. You see, in celebrating the gifts of others we remind them of the beauty and possibility they possess.
Just as importantly, though, we remind ourselves that the same beauty and possibility exists within ourselves, too.
Can you remember a time when someone raised you up with appreciation – or when you were able to lift up someone else? Share in the comments below so we can celebrate with you, ignite our possibility and change our world!