Author’s Note: this post on saying things to others as you would have said unto you has been rolling around in my head for about eight months, and it’s finally grown into something I think might be useful and / or interesting for other people. Always speak your truth, but also make sure to speak the truth others need to hear. 🙂
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I spent February 14th this year at a “Girl’s Night Out” hosted by local women for Angel Reach, a local foster transition program. Girl’s Night Out is a program in which adult ladies (and me, since I often feel like I’m barely an adult) spend time with young women who have recently aged out of foster care and now don’t have a support structure. The idea is to provide a stable group of adults for these young women to get to know and to maybe help balance some of the other chaos in their lives. We took the girls, most aged 17-19, out to dinner and pretended it was normal to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a large group of women you don’t know that well.
While I have always hated Valentine’s Day and its implications, I became convinced this might be a particularly bad year for ol’ Lindsay when one of the women announced that after dinner we would be playing “games about relationships.” Anything that smacks of role-playing games forcing you to publicly practice “I feel” statements makes me groan internally and plan to fake a phone call if things get too weird. (“I feel sad when you make me practice role playing in public because I suspect role playing is considered cruel and unusual punishment.”)
Y’all. Relationship games are the best, and I’m not talking about the constant passive aggressive testing of a boyfriend that leads to inevitable disappointment and tears all around (hey-oh!). One of the games we played as a group involved sitting in a big circle, then turning to the woman sitting next to you and telling her the one thing you would most like someone to say to you, maintaining eye contact the entire time.
The vulnerability involved in this game was scary, and as someone who’s a bit emotionally stunted, it was all I could do to sit in my chair without wiggling too much. But I began to see the point of the game as we went. Most of these young women were starved for love and attention, and so they spend all of their energy on finding and keeping boyfriends and many of them want to have children as quickly as possible. And so these girls, many of whom had never really been taught anything about love as they were shuffled from foster home to foster home, generally made statements like, “You’re beautiful,” shifting uncomfortably as they wished that someone would tell them that they, too, were beautiful so that they, too, would believe it.
The “moms” of the group, on the other hand, said things like, “You’re important to me,” “You matter,” and other life- and existence-affirming statements that have absolutely nothing to do with physical appearance. When it came to be my turn, I gazed into the big doe eyes of the girl sitting next to me and said, “I’m so glad you were born. The world is better off for having you in it.”
The moment stretched as my own throat became thick with unshed tears–tears for for all of the times in my life that I haven’t been glad I was born and haven’t believed the world is better off for having me in it. The girl, on the other hand, seemed unmoved, though this was probably because foster kids learn young not to show vulnerability in front of adult figures. Time snapped back into place and the moment passed as the game continued.
I really was glad the girl had been born, and I really did think the world was better off for having her in it. I struggle with my own feelings of inadequacy and self-worth and discovered to my surprise that acknowledging another person’s worthiness and importance on this planet helped me believe that maybe I’m worthy and important, as well. We all matter and bring value to this planet simply because we exist. It’s just easier to see that in other people than to see it in ourselves.
Saying kind things to others forces us to be kind to ourselves. Plus we get the added benefit of being kind to others.
Say Unto Others
I don’t know if that girl, or any of the girls, really learned anything from that exercise, but I walked away with a newfound determination to “say unto others as you would have them say unto you,” to start saying important things to other people, to help them feel the way I think they deserve to feel simply because they’re on this planet and doing their best.
To this end, I’ve started paying special attention to the things others say to me that are moving. For example, once when discussing difficult life choices ahead of me, my therapist told me, “It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to hurt. But you’re strong, and you’ll make it through. And no matter what happens, you’ll have me there to help you through.”
While there’s always an unspoken assumption of moral support from friends and family, this was the first time in recent memory that anyone made such a simple statement about having my back 100%, no matter what, and I immediately burst into tears. (Unrelated: why the hell do I cry so much now that I’m in my thirties? Jeez Louise, y’all, buy stock in Kleenex, because I go through a lot of it. You heard it here first.)
The fact that I’m paying her to be there for me doesn’t matter. Simply knowing that someone–anyone–will help me as I figure out my shit, no matter what happens, is incredibly moving. So you know what I’ve done? I’ve started saying those exact words to the people who matter in my life when they’re struggling, because in my heart I believe it… and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
People need to hear these things. The hard part is remembering to say them. The benefits of this are two-fold. In the words of the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living,
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
Say unto others that which you would have said unto you. See what happens when you do.
Speaking of spending Valentine’s Day going all GIRL POWER Y’ALL, I just finished reading Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter, and this verse of the poem “Surviving” stood out to me:
Each time my search for true love
leads me to the gates of hell
where Satan waits with open arms
I imagine the laughter of women friends,
their sounds tinkle like wind charms urged by a searching breeze.
I remember the sturdy guffaw of happy men and
my feet, without haste, and with purpose
move past the threatening open gates
to an area, secure from the evil of heartbreak
I hope we all remember that love comes in many forms, and while the love of friends can’t (and probably shouldn’t try to) replace “true love,” it can help steer you away the gates of hell and the evils of heartbreak.
Much (platonic and poetic) love, everyone. – Lindsay