My second grader stood waiting for the pizza sample when the baker crouched down to say hello to her. “Why what a cute little face you have,” said the happy woman.
Unamused, my daughter stood there without response, then took the pizza sample, said thank-you, and walked away.
“You know, Lily,” I said, “when someone smiles and you and gives you a compliment, it’s a nice idea to say thank-you and smile back.”
“But I don’t like being called cute,” she said. “I am not little anymore. I don’t like being the littlest in the family.”
“I know, but it’s still a good idea to smile at people. Let’s make it your new habit to practice. When someone smiles at you, you smile back. What do you think?”
“O-kay,” she said with a snarl in her voice.
And that’s my girl. Interestingly, her teacher tells me that she’s one of the more polite children in class, and I’ve seen that too. But she’s not easily flattered, nor is she interested in flattering anyone else. As a mother, this bothers me at times. On the other hand, she’s unusually truthful, genuine, and very tuned into her own internal compass. She does what she knows to be right, and lets the pizza crumbs fall where they will. Few adults I know could boast such traits, and the more I think about it, the more clear I become on a few things.
When we stop playing to the gallery, the mirror, and the super image we are trying to project of ourselves, something magical happens. That something is the ability to stay more true to our own essence, our own inspiration, our own guidance system, and our own well-being. This is because the more we try to impress people outside of ourselves, the less we can see, hear, and feel that which is inside of us, wanting to come through. I like to call it the still small voice, and though it is small and still, if we have ears to hear, it resounds with a power that is undeniable and true. A power that will always lead us like the North Star towards our own best interest, and the best interest of all others too.
Character and Reputation
I’ve heard it said that our character is up to us, and our reputation is up to the world. And while social exercises like returning smiles may be of wise use, we must be careful. If we are not, our desire to manage our reputation or how we want to be seen, will outweigh the desire to allow who we really are to speak through us and shine. In other words, there is a difference between focusing on our persona, and focusing on our essence. Persona is concerned about how we are being perceived, essence is concerned about how we are being and what we are becoming.
Transforming our Relationships with Others
I remember a time I gave a perfect and even stirring speech. Every word was polished to a shine, and I was entirely “in the zone.” People seemed to really enjoy it and gave me lots of kudos for my artistry in speaking. They even took notes and vowed to put some of my maxims to good use.
Another speech went something like this. A crying colicky infant in a carseat on one arm, and a toddler at my side. In my other hand I carried my notes, a diaperbag, and a wooden box containing a miniature Little Women teaset, a gift from my mother’s travels to the Alcott museum. The moment I got to the door, I dropped the teaset, shattering it into pieces. I was sad, flustered, tired, and clearly not in the zone.
By the time I stood to face the crowd, my ability to speak from my notes was useless. I stood there with a long pause, looked into the faces and hearts of my audience, and began to speak from my core. My words tumbled with imperfection, my voice trembled with vulnerability, I knew I had utterly failed, and then I sat down. Somehow, to my surprise, the heartfelt responses poured in.
“Your heart spoke to mine.”
“I connected with everything you said.”
“The words you spoke were exactly what I needed to hear.”
And so on and so on.
The moment I risked vulnerability, put my own image aside for the sake of others, and spoke from that real place of inner guidance, I transformed my relationship with these others. While my strengths may have impressed the first audience, my imperfect humanity connected me to the second in a way that invited lasting transformation. In other words, while the first audience may have had an intellectual experience, the second had a spiritual one. And while there is great value in both approaches, I hope to mirror back to my youngest daughter the ability to stand true to myself when the allure of flattery calls, just like she did for me.
Heartfelt smiles for all~