Thursday, December 22, 2011


“You have to learn to gush, people, you have to learn to gush!” It was the end of a four-day writers’ workshop and the leader was giving us her parting wisdom. Her philosophy for helping people to learn to write from the heart is one of positive criticism and affirmation. Over and over she would exhort the group to “tell her what you loved” after each person had read her piece.

She told the story of meeting a woman on the check-out line in a local supermarket. The woman looked sad and withdrawn. Our leader complimented the woman on the beautiful saffron colored scarf she was wearing - - remarked on how beautifully it brought out the color of her eyes and the highlights in her hair. A simple enough gesture on the check-out line.

A few months later, the same woman walked up to our leader on the street, wearing the same scarf. They greeted and the woman explained how our leader might just have saved her life. She had been depressed and was entertaining notions of suicide when the first encounter happened. By chance, an effusive and sincere compliment lifted her spirits just enough for her to be able to make the effort to get help with her depression. The woman placed the saffron scarf around our group leader’s neck, embraced her, and went on her way.

I am not a “gusher” but the story stayed with me as I wondered about how often I could have verbally expressed my appreciation and valuing of another person a little more enthusiastically - - maybe say “I love you” in place of the cursory “love ya!” Maybe “use my words” to let someone else know how much I feel cared for by their kindness to me. Maybe tell another person that I receive them as a blessing in my life. Maybe let them know that their inner beauty is visible to me or tell them how much I respect their opinion on things that matter.

We live in a vast and pervasive culture of disrespect and un-civility. Our social interactions are often liberally laced with insults and put-downs in the name of humor. We tend not to see others as wounded and we unthinkingly add to their wounds. We tend not to see others as valuable and easily de-value them with thoughtless, thrown away words of disregard. Human dignity can be stripped away so easily and in the process a person of infinite worth is de-humanized.

As I was growing up, the old cliché: “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” provided some momentary relief against a bullying insult – but belied the truth that words hurt in ways that do not heal.

I may never be a “gusher” but I know for sure that I can slip under the cultural penchant for insult and put-down and find words of grace and love and affirmation and comfort and appreciation for another person, and maybe, for just a few minutes, subvert the dominant paradigm. Who knows when a human life may be hanging in the balance?

Vicky Hanjian

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