People who are affirming and positive are a joy to be around. People who are not — are not. I consider this statement a twist on The Golden Rule.
As I get older, perhaps because I grew up in a household where my mother recited, "Do onto others as you would have them do onto you" on a near-daily basis, I'm more conscious that mother's rules are not always well observed.
The Golden Rule, according to Princeton scholars, crosses cultures and is "arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights," with origins in ancient Egypt. It was labeled "golden" by Confucius around 479 B.C.
In recent weeks, I have witnessed several occasions where someone had the option of being positive and affirming i.e. "golden," and did not take it. I wondered why. For instance, an after-dinner party discussion with the chef present. Instead of "Great job with the meal" or something to that effect, the remark was, "The pork was a little stringy, don't you think?" Even if it was, why say that? Differently stated, but still accurate, the comment could have been, "Great meal, I still prefer your"¦"
Another illustration: Instead of waiting for someone to say, "How do I look?" in a new haircut or a just-purchased sweater and responding with "You look fine," how about initiating a compliment before the query? There's solid research to support that people need and want lots of compliments — even if they're disingenuous. How about statements like, "Smashing look!" or "The color is magnificent on you!" Maybe that's just a little gushy — tailor to you own preferences.
While I'm on a rant, "What kind of word is "fine?" There are so many better adjectives to choose from. "First-rate" and "splendid" are two of my personal favorites.
When my mother was near death, my siblings and I were beside her bed for days. She was in a deep sleep, occasionally awakening to smile at us or squeeze a nearby hand. She woke at one point, looked directly at me and softly whispered, "You are beautiful." She was looking into my heart. And despite my sadness and my sleepless, disheveled state, I felt affirmed and renewed and able to go on. Maybe even "golden." If you have a moment like that in your life to draw from, I hope you will. If you do not, perhaps you could create one.
I've decided that when someone is not reliably optimistic or acknowledging, there can be many reasons. "Self-involvement" is probably at the top of this list. All our lives are complicated, and there is a lot to divert and distract. Or it might be that many times, people are not well practiced in pat-on-the-back approaches — did not get them as a child and do not even know how. The default way of speaking for many is a critical remark. Sometimes modeling how it's done can have tremendous and positive effect. For aging adults, especially men, unwillingness or an inability to affirm or offer optimism may be linked to the irritability that goes with mild depression — even weather has an effect.
How about this: Ever older, ever trying. Use the word "smashing" at least once this week? Or write on your heart that you will say something "first-rate" or "splendid" to or about someone else. Thank you.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.