Originally published Spetember 3, 2018
It’s more than just a question for the mall concierge.
I just got back into town after spending a couple of days in my husband’s hometown, at his mother’s home. It’s a trip we’ve taken countless times in 29 years, to spend time with his mom, his sister and her family. A widow, his mom is always excited to have us, generous with her time and her space to a fault, and glad, I think, to have company.
And it’s after these visits I am reminded of the single lesson Oprah imparted that has ever stuck with me in an intensely personal, real, way.
I can be a super cynical beeyotch when it comes to O — but when it comes to this, she is completely on point. It’s during these visits that I can hear my mother-in-law, like anyone else, search for validation from her loved ones. Did she make the right meal? Are we happy with it? Was the bed ok? Does she have the right drink in the fridge? Is the TV working? Were we able to find what we needed at the store in her town? Would we like another meal in between breakfast and lunch? What kind of sandwiches would we like for the road?
Sometimes, these conversations are exhausting. How many times can you tell a person you are full and don’t need to eat for the next three days? But when you recognize it for what it is, the conversation can take a turn toward understanding each other more than you thought possible.
For like Oprah says, the desire for validation is universal. It ties us all together in that respect. We all want to be seen and heard and understood. We all, in our own way, create, do and say all day long, in hopes someone will acknowledge our presence, understand what we are saying and accept us as we are.
Validation. Acceptance. Inclusion in each others’ lives. It’s what mothers want from sons. Wives from husbands. Daughters from mothers. Sons from fathers. Sisters from brothers. Friends from friends. Congregants from pastors. Employees from management. Homeless from other humans. Sick from the healthy. And so on.
My God, it’s the mojo that fuels social media. The “like” button. The “heart.” The thumbs up that gives everyone a tiny shot of adrenaline.
See me. Hear me. Understand me.
There is both beauty and challenge in validation. The beauty is that it’s free to give. There’s no cost associated with kind words. A nod. Simply, “You did good.” Or “I understand.” Or “I hear you.”
The challenge is in overcoming the frustration inherent in some of these conversations. Sometimes, the person seeking validation requires it every time you interact. In these cases, it helps to remember maybe this person has been knocked down a lot. Is struggling with confidence or self-esteem. Your kind words can make a difference.
Other times, the person may be looking for validation for something with which you don’t agree. A political opinion, for example. The challenge then is to find a way to validate another’s feelings, but not at the expense of your own. Again, kind words can go far, without having to betray your own belief system. You can tell a Trumper, for example, that you hear them. You can even use an “I” message — you know, an “I feel as if you are saying you think Hillary should be investigated again.” All while not saying you agree or disagree — just an acknowledgement of what he or she had to say.
There’s so much white noise out there — personally, professionally, politically — people talking over each other, thinking about what they want to say instead of just simply listening. And it’s somewhere in that white noise that if we all could stop, take a breath, listen, and then VALIDATE, while we still may not see eye to eye, we might find some common ground.
To my mom, my dad, my mother-in-law, my husband, my sons, my daughter … you did good. I hear you. And I hope, going into the next decade, I’ll see more opportunities to validate more than just your parking.
Today’s recommendation: Less by Andrew Sean Greer, is a fictional but absolutely wonderful tale of one man’s search for validation. I cannot recommend it enough.