Tell Me What you Really Think
Something's been bothering me.
This past June, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Me and the other one in eight women around me. But that’s not what’s been bothering me, although it certainly has been a bother (I’ll be fine, thank God).
When friends and family started to find out, I heard from them through phone calls, texts, emails, notes on delivered flowers, cards sent in the mail and when they came to drop off food.
I heard what they thought about me — what theyreallythought about me. Never before had I felt as much of a super woman as in those days of receiving the love and encouragement from people near and far.
They thought I needed it at the time, or maybe they figured I’d die, so they let me know what theyreallythought of me.
This afternoon, I’m going to a memorial service for our neighbour, Mr. Laurie Hatfield. He was a 75 year-old gentleman who knit our little community together.
He helped every person on the street that he was able — moving and storing furniture, repairing our snow blowers and lawn tractors purely for the pleasure it gave him.
The kids in the community were welcome to use his in-ground pool — the pool he installed years ago for his mother who loved to swim.
Laurie took our son under his wing and taught him about mechanics and so much more. He paid Lucas to mow his lawn, clean his garage, look after his pool and dogs.
Mr. Hatfield brought plants and cookies and presents over for the five of us every Christmas as he did for most of the neighbours on the street. We’d have him over for inconsistent Thanksgiving and Easter meals, guests at our table enjoying tales of his captain-hood as a global merchant marine.
Laurie added to our lives. He was a gentle man, a servant-hearted friend to so many of us. For our son he was an example of a genuine, good-hearted, community focussed person.
We miss him every time we go for a walk past the hedges that hide his now empty home.
When he passed away suddenly of a heart attack several months ago, many of the neighbours got together to share stories and raise a glass to Laurie. My husband and I met neighbours whose houses we’d passed by but had never been inside. We had some laughs as we took turns relaying a story or two or three. We told each other what we thought about Laurie. What we really thought.
I want to tell Laurie what I really thought about him. I should have, my husband should have, our son should have. But it’s too late.
What would the world look like if we regularly told people what we thought about them? We’d be filled up — the negative comments wouldn’t hold as much weight, there’d be no doubt who our people are.
What keeps us from honestly expressing our feelings to our friends, family, neighbours, and co-workers?
We always think there will be time.
We think they already know what we think about them.
It may be awkward.
We’re not good communicators.
We’d have to go deeper than surface-talk.
Thinking and selecting the appropriate words can’t be done quickly.
A few years ago I found a box I’d kept from my high school and university years. Along with essays and poetry I’d written were my yearbooks, notes from friends and greeting cards.
Filed in with those paper memories was a little business card-sized piece of paper. I still remember the small, bland high school classroom I was sitting in that day. Ms. Vanderkooy had each of us write a few words describing something we liked about each person in the room.
At the end of the exercise we ended up with a card filled with personal words of praise. That class was over 34 years ago. That little card with those precious words lifted me up and made me smile as much when I was a 17 year-old zit-prone teen as it did as an almost 50 year-old mom of three.
Conversely, negative words last long, go deep and can obliterate all the positive words.
I know someone who stopped having birthday parties altogether because a kid he’d invited to one of his parties when he was eight or nine years old told him that his party was boring. My friend was so hurt by that one comment (even though all the other kids may have been having a blast) that it ended all of his future birthday parties.
A teen who lived down the road from us, who had transitioned, took her life last Christmas. Her mother is an acquaintance of mine. This is not an article on the transgender issue, this is an article about people.
If this teen had regularly heard what people really thought about her — the positive things, her quick wit, her stage presence, her kindness — would it have impacted how she felt about herself?
Would it have impacted her decision that day?
What if we made it a practice to reach out to someone once a week? Once a week we send a written note in the mail or take extra time on a text or leave a from-the-heart voicemail. Write a thank you or an encouragement with details about the characteristics that we love or appreciate.
It’s easy to write, ‘Thanks so much for stopping by, I appreciate it.’ It takes more effort to think about how you really feel about someone and why you appreciate them and then put that into words.
Here’s an example of how you can more specifically encourage your grandchild’s dream.
I haven’t told you recently how excited I am about your start up. You’re so tenacious and determined and creative. I know you’ll do so well. I also just wanted to let you know that I love chatting with you on the phone every week. It means so much that you go out of your way to check in on your Gran, I smile as soon as I see your name on my phone. Yes, you are my favourite (along with your brother and sister ;)
It’s easy to thank your neighbour for shovelling the driveway but what if we took a couple more minutes and added a few more words.
Knowing that you thought about helping us out by clearing our driveway has made me so thankful that we live close to you and your family. You understand community and I’m glad we have people in the neighbourhood who can be an example to my kids. Your kindness this morning changed my day. Did you know that John was away(he’s the usual ‘shoveller’)? Your timing is perfect. I went from moaning out loud to jumping for glee! Again, thank you thank you thank you. You’re a gem.
No big fancy words needed.
It’s not hard to write a bit extra, it just takes time. Most of us don’t easily or often express how we feel.
We need to teach our kids how to communicate more expressively and practice this ourselves. Write regular notes to others with your kids. Model it out.
I’m sure it would make the world a more empathetic place. The special notes, text and emails you and your kids send will be saved and looked back upon by the receiver in years to come.
Write a list of 10 people you could/should send a little word-love to right now.
There you go. You have the recipients of your what I really think about younotes for the next ten weeks.
I’d love to hear how your notes writing affects you and those you spent extra time thinking and writing about.
Maybe this becomes the favourite part of your week. All of us need to hear what you really think about ‘me’.
Don’t wait any longer.