FRIENDS. Life is amazing. I am currently attending AHS, and it’s rocking my world. More re: that later, I think.
But this I would never put off. Food & Love Hack Friday?! Forget it. I’m not missing this for anything.
This week’s hack is I believe one of the more effective ones, if not one of the more difficult. It is about acknowledging a universal characteristic of humanity (fear), and then taking practical steps (love) to mitigate it.
Remember this, and well: to every person we meet, we are saying to them, “love me!”
And every person whom we cross is also thinking “love me!”
24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We humans want to be loved above all else. And desperately.
So because affirmation is such an intense desire, we are horribly afraid of being rejected. We are so afraid of rejection, in fact, that we rarely reach out to people. We look down when we walk down the street, we glue our eyes to the countertops at checkout counters, we glance away as fast as we can when we catch the eye of a cutie. These actions are so automatic and so ingrained in us that we often do not even realize we are doing them. But we have laced them into our lives, into the very fabric of how we navigate our spaces and our relations. We do not want the person we find so attractive to even have a chance to reject us, so we avoid them. We do not want our brothers to insult us, so we insult them first. We don’t want that stranger to sneer at our supposed flaws, so we do not even look in his direction.
Worse, when we are feeling particularly self-conscious, we feel the need to defend or protect ourselves, often by lashing out. This makes us even more removed, and even more isolated, and alone. We might even be snippy, or mean. Better be solitary than in pain, we think. We are so afraid of getting hurt, and of being rejected, and of having our “love me!” thrown back in our faces, that we retreat behind nasty walls. This closes us off from people. It’s heartbreaking.
But here’s the thing: everybody else on the planet is the exact same way. We are all afraid of rejection. That man on the bus that you are afraid to look at, he’s afraid to look at you, too. And that person who had a bad day work and needs a friend, she just needs kindness, too. Everybody wants to be affirmed, but we are all so fearful of rejection that we end up not affirming each other. You might be self-conscious, and you might feel a need for affirmation, but the whole world is self-conscious and feels a need for affirmation.
We are the most closed off from people when we are the most vulnerable, self-conscious, and afraid. Post-binge, post-break-out, post-dance-class, post-mirror-session, post-shopping, post-TV-watching, post-argument, post-guilt. We have the least amount of love in our lives when we need it the most.
Today’s task is to take the first step. When we recognize that our self-consciousness is a product of our desire to be loved, and that our closed-off behavior is driven by fear, we can deliberately push beyond that into new (if initially frightening) territory.
So do this: be the first person to give love. Someone has got to be the one to open up a safe space of interaction. I read this quote once, in a beautiful love story: “Their eyes locked, but neither of them had the nerve to turn the key.” This sentence was meant for a romantic moment, but the idea applies to all situations. With every person we encounter, we have a brief moment in time and in space in which to be human together. If we are both afraid of each other, we might just look off to the side and shrug our shoulders and ignore each other altogether. Historically, it’s been safer. It has protected us from being rejected. But what if one of us dares to engage each other? To be affirming? To smile, or to tell the other her hair is lovely?
What happens is that we end up breaking down that wall, bit by bit. We learn through repeated practice and experience– from deliberately engaging other people over and over again even while we are defensive and afraid– that we really have so little reason to be afraid. Once we positively engage other people, open up, get vulnerable, reach out, they almost always feel safe enough to positively engage us back. The whole trick is getting one of us to turn the key. So why not do it? Why not be the first? Why not dare to affirm others, to give them love, to treat them with the same tenderness and appreciation that we are so hungry for in our own lives?
Go out and dare to be open and dare to be kind. The more defensive, vulnerable, and afraid you are, the more important this is. Do not wall yourself up in your pain. Do not get wrapped up in perceived imperfections. No one else is worried about your “flaws”– they are worried about their own. Tell them it doesn’t matter. Give them love. Make the world a positive space, and bask in the happy results that follow. People respond happily and positively to affirmation. Your kindness will make other people more kind to you, and it will teach you that you are not defined by your body image, your crooked teeth, your scarred skin. Not in the slightest. You are defined by your whole self, by your spirit, by your life and your gifts. Share them with people. You won’t be disappointed.
This post is dedicated to my wise, lovely friend, Lex C.