Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tell them.

Last week I complained about a problem. I've been thinking about what the solution might be.

I had never heard of Aaron Swartz until he died, though I used his inventions every day. This happens a lot with famous people – I had never heard of Frank Sinatra until he was dead and suddenly he was all over the radio. Of course, if you're Sinatra, you probably get more attention than you want. But I'm guessing a lot of awesome people, probably Aaron included, don't hear enough “You're awesome, and I'm glad you're doing the things you do, and I want to help if I can.”

I had a friend with a famous father. It struck me as strange that people were so excited about meeting him, because in person he was less interesting than her (possibly because he'd been pursued by too many fans and was sick of meeting people). People just walked up to him and told him how much they admired him and his work, but no one said that to her. I didn't tell her, “You're so fun, and I love your hair, and this spinach you made is really good,” even though I thought it every day.

When people die, we wish we had told them things like that.  And yet it's hard to say it in the course of everyday life.

What praise do we not give, and why?

One reason is the fear other people will think you're weird.  It's true that flattery can come off as creepy. But I think people can usually tell the difference between flattery and honest praise. And accepting weirdness is a good life skill.

Maybe hearing too much praise would make a person conceited after a while. But I think in most cases, it would just make them happier and better at being awesome. I love that as a social worker, I get to give my clients real criticism and real praise, because we're outside the normal realm of social interactions.

And the normal realm does not encourage this kind of thing.  It embraces irony, and geeky subcultures especially prize critique and verbal sparring (see also: Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate).  Which is fine, but that's not all there is to life.

So sometimes there's love and admiration that I don't have an easy outlet for.  It took years of angst before I gave myself permission to be in love with men who were not viable romantic partners. I kept trying to reconcile the love with the impossibility of acting on it. I finally realized I didn't have to act, and I also didn't have to squash the love. It was okay to give up hope and just love them.

With some of them I got to move on from the awkward-non-lover stage to real friendship, and that was great.  And one of them broke up with his girlfriend and married me, and that was pretty great too.

I try to push myself to tell people the things I love about them. It's scary, because there are probably situations where this could go wrong and people would be uncomfortable. But I'd like to move towards a culture where it's not weird.

For well you know that it's a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.
- Paul McCartney

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Good post. Letting others know of our appreciation/admiration (that we often keep to ourselves) seems very important to me - thanks for the reminder.