August 21, 2001
I closed Words of Affirmation – a book I was reading with my morning coffee. It did not seem to have the effect I wanted.
It was a Monday morning. A dark, wet November morning when it seemed like it would take a million years to get to summer again. So dark I was sure I did not even remember what summer looked like anymore. And no affirmation seemed to work. I thought bears got it right – what a perfect idea to sleep through the lousiest part of the year and wake up when spring came!
I got into a conversation with a coworker about this when I got to work.
You don’t think words of affirmation work? He asked me.
…words of affirmation.
Today – no.
I used to think so too, he said, until I realized the effect my words had on a certain person.
What do you mean?
Well, it was someone I knew pretty well. I have to say I treated him rather badly.
You? But you are always so positive! How did you treat him badly?
I told him I did not like anything about him, really. I looked at him and said he had grown a belly. That his face was sagging. His hair was thinning. I told him I did not even like his name.
I could not find words. I just did not believe him. He could see what I was thinking and nodded.
I swear this is true. You can imagine what it did to his self-esteem. If we hear such negative affirmations about ourselves, we tend to believe them, don’t you agree?
Well I sure agreed.
I still cannot believe you! I said, – You are always encouraging others. How can it be possible you would have said such words to anyone you know?
Such words and even more, he nodded. Now I am not proud of myself, but I thought this would be useful for you to know when you wonder if words of affirmation work. It wasn’t only what I said, I also did pretty bad things to him. When he was feeling low, I did not want to sympathize but told him he should snap out of it and play cheerful. When he was hungry I did not give him a chance to eat proper food. When he felt like doing something fun I said to him that he was being childish and having fun was not productive. After all he was always short on cash so obviously he was a lazy worker.
And worst of all, when he was sick and needed care, I did not care. I told him to get up and get to work. And when he did, I never told him he did good work. Oh no, I only told him he could do better.
I knew my coworker had been a boss at a smaller firm before. But still, surely he would never have behaved in such a way towards his employees?
You could say I was ashamed of him, he said, I wanted to get rid of him because he just wasn’t good enough for me, but couldn’t.
But… That was heartless!
I agree. I was a horrible person. I was cruel towards him. And I could see the effect of my words on him. He was depressed most of the time, tried to drown his sorrows by watching TV, drinking too much and calling in sick whenever he could.
Well no wonder! I exclaimed, but I have to say I never would have believed you could behave in such a way!
Then one day it all changed, he said.
I stood there in front of the bathroom mirror one morning. I saw the dark circles under his eyes, I saw the excess weight. I saw the hair that needed cutting. And I saw the eyes that once had looked at the world eagerly. Now they were so sad and tired. And there and then I realized he deserved better. I knew the time had come to start finding good things about myself. So I told the man whom I had disliked so many years that he was a good person after all. I decided to like every likeable thing about myself and tell it to myself too.
My jaw dropped.
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