I live in a community of people where there is much coming and going. People are all busy with their respective lives, and sometimes the life of the community gets put on the back burner. We’re so focused on doing our own thing, that doing something as a community can start to feel like a burden. We eat together four nights a week, isn’t that enough?
Tonight after dinner I made some comment about having to help with cleanup, even though I’d cleaned earlier in the day and had helped with dinner prep. One of the people I was helping with clean-up said, “Then don’t do it. Seriously, if you’ve done that much, don’t help with clean up. Who is supposed to be cleaning up?” I said that I didn’t know, but they weren’t there and I wasn’t letting her clean up on her own. Then we started discussing community life, and the way that the smallest things could fester if we let them. Instead, we have to deal with problems like that as a house, head on. She’s right, of course.
I had made a comment to her that I thought our household could really benefit not only from open discussion regarding things like that, but it could also use more words of affirmation, to keep people from feeling hard done by. She asked me what I meant and so I told her a story about something that had happened earlier in the day. The older gentleman who lives in my house had come an commented (complained) that when the family got back after a weekend away, they didn’t say anything about how clean the house was, or notice the floor he had made an effort to sweep. They didn’t say anything about the state of the house, and he felt that was unfair as work had gone into neatening it up for their homecoming. I told him that I thought our house could be a healthier place if we all used more words of affirmation. Words like, “thank you” or phrases like “I appreciate you sweeping up the dog hair.” It lets people know that their efforts are valued. I commented that we all needed to make sure to thank others on a regular basis. He hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but agreed. Then he commented that I always thanked people. I always thanked him for putting away the dishes or for taking out the garbage. Apparently I thank people fairly frequently. Kudos mom and dad. Way to raise me right.
I do think that words of affirmation are incredibly important. I know that for me, hearing that my baking is appreciated can really brighten up my day. Currently I have to ask for feedback whenever I bake, and no one thanks me for it, they just kind of say, “Wow, you must really like baking.” Today I did have someone tell me that my muffins were fantastic. That was great to hear. But not once in the month and a half that I’ve lived in this house have I heard, “Thank you for baking” or “thank you for doing the dishes.” The closest I’ve gotten on that last one was, “You didn’t have to do that” or “It’s not your job to do all the dishes, you’ve done lots already.” Affirmation? Yes. Thanks? No.
So next time you’re feeling hard done by, like no one is taking the time to notice your efforts, stop and examine if you’re recognizing theirs. Are you so inwardly focused that you fail to see act of kindness and service around you? If so, it might be time to reexamine your own mindset and start, as Michael Jackson’s song says, “with the man in the mirror…If you want to make the world (or your house) a better place, take a look at yourself and then make the change.”