The courage to be appreciative

The other night I was sitting having dinner with a group of people after a day at a conference. It wasn't just any conference really. It was the BIF Storytellers Summit. Two days and 32 speakers of extraordinary accomplishment. More important than that however was the way they spoke about their work: with passion, heart and modesty. They were all inspiring, each remarkable in their own particular way. In our estimation they were giants, contributing to the world in meaningful ways. One of us then mentioned how, with some trepidation, he went up to one of them simply to say how deeply moved he was and how much he appreciated what they so generously gave. Another at the table then remarked that, at times, it takes courage to be appreciative. We don't believe we are worthy of showing our appreciation or simply being thankful.

Most of us would recognize the situation described above. Many of us have been to performances of our heroes in music and ventured hesitatingly up to say, often in stuttering and awkward phrase, what it all meant to us. Embarrassment is very often involved. A few years ago, friends of mine and I were at a concert of Judy Collins who is still performing at age 78. Afterwards she came by our table to say hello to one of the members of our party. My friend Joe, wanting to be appreciative, said "I think your voice is holding up rather well." We could tell by the look on her face before moving briskly on that somehow this was not the ringing endorsement she was hoping for.

So we carry this barrier to the expression of our appreciation in the presence of famous people we admire. It appears as well, however, in more ubiquitous circumstances. In meetings when we are impressed by another's contribution (and maybe a little discouraged by our own in comparison) we are too consumed by self judgment to articulate how impressed we really are. Sadly, this is a mistake on two counts. One, collaboration is almost always advanced on the wings of encouragement of any kind. But secondly, by withholding that expression of approval and admiration, we suffer the lack of its resonance in us. We rob ourselves of the nourishment that surprisingly comes to us as well when we voice a sentiment of delight.

Indeed, we all benefit.

Randall HoytComment