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The Golden Rule is underused

People who are affirming and positive are a joy to be around. People who are not — are not.

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 lately that mother’s advice is not always well observed.

The Golden Rule, “arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights,” has origins in the early 17th century in Britain. There is a less positive version, the “Silver Rule,” which says, “One should not treat others in ways one would not like to be treated.”

In recent weeks, I witnessed several occasions where someone had the option of being positive and affirming and did not take it. I did that once myself. I wondered why.

Illustration: A holiday dinner party discussion with the meal preparer listening in. Instead of “Great job with this meal” or “Just delicious” — the remark was “Do you think the pork was a bit stringy?” Even if it was stringy, why say that? Differently stated, the comment could have been, “Great meal, I think I still prefer your ” Or maybe the host herself asks whether the pork is a little stringy. The funniest but probably not the ideal response when that happens is: “I like it that way — gives my mouth a little exercise.”

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. There’s solid research to support people need and want compliments — even if they’re disingenuous. Statements like, “Smashing look!” or “That color is absolutely magnificent on you!” Maybe that’s just a little gushy — tailor it 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 favorites. Last night I told my husband the meatloaf dinner he made for us was “just divine.” And it was.

When my mother was near death, my siblings and I spent days by her bedside. She was in a deep sleep, occasionally awakening to smile at us or squeeze a nearby hand. She woke at one point, looked at me and softly whispered, “You are beautiful.” She was looking at my heart. And despite my sadness and my sleepless, disheveled state, I felt strong and affirmed and able to go on. Able to let her go on.

Affirmations are the making of precious memories. But be gentle with this awareness. When someone isn’t affirming, there are often reasons. Many times, people are simply not well practiced in pat-on-the-back approaches. They may need models. For aging adults, unwillingness or inability to affirm may be linked to the irritability that can go with mild depression — or even hearing loss. Start slowly, maybe by modeling the use of a few more affirming comments than you already use in a given day. I suspect “golden begets golden.”

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.