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“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!

0 replies on “Appreciating Recognition”

John,
This post touched me so deeply and is a core value that we try to live every day. To that end, I need to tell you that my husband meeting you approx. 10 mo. ago was so moved by your message that he finally did the unthinkable and tackled his obesity head-on. He enrolled in a strict, doctor supervised diet and began running through a “couch to 5K” running program through a local running apparel store. Since September, he has lost approx. 70 lb. and 17 inches off his waist – and is exercising for the first time since high school. How many people can say they look their lifetime best at 4-0, his birthday which is soon approaching? Watching him buy clothes off the rack and much more importantly, model health for our young children is so inspiring. And the effects of your inspiration go beyond just my husband – family members, close friends and even acquaintances have told us how witnessing his transformation has motivated them to take control of their health. And it goes beyond there – this change has been so empowering that we are discussing other parts of our life that need radical change, and we wanted to tell you this as well. One of my most touching moments is to hear my 4 yr old son say, after watching his father complete his first 5K, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to Be a Runner just like you.” (This same child had said, at 3 years old, that he wanted to be fat when he grew up, because that’s how men are supposed to be). John, your story about the student above is so touching, and I felt that I couldn’t wait any longer to share our heartfelt appreciation with you. We hope to see you again soon and I will email you a before and after picture of my husband, for you to see more concretely what you have done for us. With warmest heartfelt wishes for you to be able to keep spreading your word, and gratitude as well to your wife Beth for making your message of love inspired, and possible … . – R.

R, thank you so much for sharing your family’s story. I am so happy for all of you – to hear the transformation in your little son’s belief system is the most telling of all! Keep doing ALL that you do, pouring your love into your husband and those kids and know that the best is yet to come. It truly is. Keep in touch can’t wait to hear about the continued successes of your family. J

Leslie, what an awesome story of love, recognition and support. Your YaYas sound like they are a good bunch to keep close! I hope all is well with your friend and all of your YaYas. Thanks for sharing and for all that you do. J

John, what a great story today. It made me cry and I loved the nudge it gave me to remind myself daily to say thank you more. I will try to say thank you more to my husband. LOL Let me share a quick story with you. My girlfriends are called Ya Ya’s we started getting togehter religously in 2005. Every quarter we set a date to get together to “let our hair down”. We have went on trips, bowling, many afternoons at someones house with some wine, the Susan G Coleman race and even a few charity events just to name a few. Over the years as the “petites” become more in our lives and keep us all more busy, the times getting togehter become less. Early this year one of our Ya’s was diagnosed with breast cancer. With trembeling fingers, I typed that email to all the Ya’s about our friend. As I knew it would, the outsource of love started pouring in from friends that hadn’t talked in a long time because of our busy schedules. We had a dinner for our friend, cried and drank Margaritas. Texts, letters, cards, dinners, flowers, lunches all poured in the next few weeks to my personal BFF. Even though it wasn’t for me, I was just a proud to be part of the recognition of love. For this, I have such great gratitude for these woman.

John, your story about this little girl born with organs outside her body made me cry. It also reaffirmed what I know is true…that understanding brings compassion, and can completely change how we respond to one another. When I was in my very early twenties, I had no self-esteem, didn’t believe in myself and felt inadequate. I was fearful of interacting with others on a personal level, and as a result, had no real friends. Through the loving acceptance of a prayer community, I began to experience acceptance and much, much affirmation. Somehow, they saw something in me I didn’t. They loved me as I was, and it WAS enough…despite what I had believed previously. My life, personality, ambitions, and goals all changed as a result of that community’s love and understanding of me. I have spent the last 30 plus years trying to do the same for others…reaching out through my health care physical therapy job, as well as in many, many volunteer capacities in my church. I have become a leader, a confident public speaker, and a mentor to many others on their spiritual journeys. I have taken several young women under my wing, sharing with them my journey, and they cannot believe I was ever that person I described above. I see in them the potential others saw in me, and trust that by feeling that love and acceptance, they, too, can make the changes necessary to be a light in their world. Thank you for your life, your words of encouragement, and your example.

Wow, sister Karen, thank you for sharing! What an awesome story of appreciating recognition – and then passing it on so others may grow and learn and love themselves more deeply too. Thanks for sharing and for ALL that you do. J

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Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.