Every once in a while, out of the blue, someone honors us with something very special: unconditional positive regard. They have a twinkle in their eye when they look at you and endow you with praise like, “You’re amazing,” “You make my day,” “What a great person you are,” “Thank you for being you.”
Lately, I am reflecting on certain people who have honored me in this way. People, who, when they first met me, welcomed me with total warmth and an open heart, assuming I must be some great person, without knowing anything about me or waiting for me to prove anything to them. And then, no matter what, they held onto that positive regard.
These are the people who “give others the benefit of the doubt” – and more. They seem to have this indefatigable optimism about humanity, gracing the rest of us with their irrepressible loving regard. I am not usually that way towards others. I’m more cautious, less trusting. So when I am the target of this kind of unconditional honor, an honor based on the inherent value and dignity of a human being, I am deeply moved.
My mother-in-law, Amalia, is one of those people. No matter what I do, she thinks it’s wonderful. I am always thinking, “I don’t visit enough…I don’t call enough…I don’t do enough…” but for her, it’s more than enough. In her eyes, I’m not only a great daughter-in-law, I’m also so smart, so brave, so capable, so strong, so thoughtful, such a great cook, etc…etc… “She’s your biggest fan!” my husband likes to joke.
While I believe my mother-in-law’s affirmations about me are, um, exaggerated, to say the least, her view confers greatness. I want to live up to this pedestal. I’m motivated. I get to thinking, “Wow, I want to be that person. Maybe I AM this person.” It feels so good, because for her, it’s a reality. Therefore, for me, it’s possible, I can do it, I can be it. What an exciting day this is!
A radical loving regard calls us to stretch toward our higher selves. Whatever our mistakes, flaws, and failings, we’re still whole people – and others in the world see that. They see our innate worth and goodness. We, then, attune to our worth and goodness.
A colleague of mine once demonstrated this beautifully. She was having tension with one of her direct reports, someone the rest of us dismissed as arrogant and uncooperative. But she made a conscious effort to treat this person with love and kindness no matter what he did or said. To my great surprise, he softened at this treatment. He began to listen and consider other viewpoints. He never became anyone’s best friend, but he became someone you could work with. Her positive regard transformed his behavior.
Imagine if we did this more often, if our starting point with people was not to wait for them to prove their value, but to assume the value is there (however buried) and treat them accordingly. In the workplace we make this very hard to do. We hire people based on what they say they can do, not who they are. Each of us has to prove our value, and that value is defined by external achievements rather than the quality of our character and humanity. We fulfill objective standards, check off a litany of skills and abilities, meet certain expectations, attain status symbols and climb ladders. Only then, someone says, “Yes, you’re great!”
What if we let up on those standards sometimes? It’s easy to be a fan of a person who, in our discerning eyes, has earned it. It’s much harder to cheerlead someone whom we believe to be undeserving or less than stellar. Choosing to believe in that person takes a conscious intention. But if someone has ever done that for us, we know the power of that transformation.
Here’s an aspiration, if you’re looking for one: choose to believe in someone who hasn’t checked off the boxes of achievement, whose talents haven’t been discovered, who has under-performed, or who, goodness gracious, maybe even annoys the heck out of you. Be curious and get to know that person better.
I’ve got a couple people in mind to whom I’m targeting my fandom. Inspired by my mother-in-law and others like her, I am choosing to esteem them. It really gets my endorphins going.
Be someone’s fan. That person will feel great, and so will you.