The Gift of Acknowledgement
Acknowledging others is a powerful way to strengthen relationships and increase fulfillment in life. Everyone understands the importance of an acknowledgment when someone gives you a material gift, such as sending flowers, a beautiful candle for your birthday, the gift of a special book or new CD. Usually a phone call or card is sent in gratitude. But what about the gifts that can’t be seen. These need acknowledgment just as much. Your employee stays late, your daughter does the dishes by surprise, your friend comes to support you when you have heard bad news, or your teacher does an excellent job.
When we acknowledge people for these gifts, thee are two rewards. First, the recipient will feel noticed and appreciated and will be open to helping again. Second, and less obvious, is how good it makes us feel to acknowledge other people. To notice someone’s effort and appreciate them will bring a smile and joy into that person’s life, which is rewarding for us.
It is also important to acknowledge the small everyday ways our friends, partner, children, or other people are contributing to our lives. In our relationship, Barry and I work together and usually do most of the household chores together. There are a few things that we do separately. Barry manages our finances on the computer. I do all the family wash. One day Barry walked out of the office with the usual stack of paid bills. Now I’ve seen him do this for many years. But this time I threw my arms around him and thanked him for taking care of this job which neither one of us enjoys. He delighted in the appreciation and his smile and warm kiss let me know. The next day I found a note in the laundry basket saying, “Thank you so much for doing our laundry each week. I so appreciate your efforts.” That little note made all the difference in tackling the big stack of dirty clothes.
In acknowledging others it is important to express first the positive. In saying to someone, “When I first met you I thought you were fake and irresponsible, I didn’t know if I wanted to be around you. Now I’m glad I stayed and got to know you.” The person will probably first hear the words fake and irresponsible and not be able to hear the positive statement that came after. It is important therefore to express first your positive feeling. Usually that is enough.
It is also important to be unattached to how our acknowledgment will be received. Usually people will delight in being noticed, but not always. When I was twenty-five, I had the amazing opportunity to have Leo Buscaglia as my main preceptor in my master’s program at the USC department of education. Leo, who went on to write best-selling books on the subject of Love, was a genius at acknowledging people. We, his small group of students, felt thoroughly appreciated. He noticed positive things about me that I had been totally unaware of. Being with him for one year impressed upon me the importance of noticing people’s beauty and gifts. One day a classmate from medical school was visiting our apartment. I had just come from one of Leo’s classes and felt inspired to acknowledge this dear man. I walked over to him and told him all the ways that I thought he was such a special person and would make such a good doctor. I expected him to give me a big smile. Instead he looked to the floor and didn’t say anything. I felt embarrassed and felt I had done something wrong. Not one word was said between us about that interaction.
One year later he approached me and told me that no one had ever appreciated him in such a beautiful way. He just didn’t know how to respond. His lack of response bothered him so much that he went into therapy to figure it out. He wanted me to know that one year later he could now receive what I had said and that it had helped him enormously. So we just don’t know how our words will impact people. One thing I have learned is that acknowledgment will always have a positive effect sooner or later.
When we train ourselves to notice and then acknowledge people we are learning to notice all the beauty and goodness of our creator. As we see this good our hearts open and our lives become full of beauty.