i am inspired this morning. not by a sunrise or a sonnet but by a public display of grounded humility and grace.
for 15 years ann curry has risen from bed at 3:30 a.m. to go to work at the today show. this past week rumors leaked that she would be asked to leave the show after serving only 1/3 of her 3 year contract as anchor. wether you love or dislike her, there is no way that you can look at how she has handled this week and not respect her. she has neither lashed out at her employers nor spoken ill of them. she hasn’t gushed about being treated unfairly or engaged the media histrionically.
instead, yesterday morning, years before she ever hoped to leave her “dream post,” with no special send off as other anchors have received, she announced her departure. she neither withered nor defended. she graciously expressed her love for her on camera, studio, and audience “families.” she was appropriately poised and shockingly non-reactive. she expressed sadness with a firm dose of steadiness and grace mixed in.
then, a most amazing thing happened. her on-air cohorts affirmed her. genuinely. they spoke to her about what they appreciated about her and she was gutsy enough to receive it. she didn’t slough it off or “oh, you guys... ‘ it away. she simply received it with millions of us looking on. this may sound like small beans but it is not.
we are a people, i have noticed, who are deeply uncomfortable with affirmation. we off-put compliments and even more frequently completely squirm at affirmation. it feels so vulnerable, it seems, to see or be seen in honest and caring ways. we know not how to give nor receive affirmation, it seems.
a few weeks ago i had the privilege of speaking at a yoga conference. everything about the environment was nourishing. yoga mats replaced the chairs that normally fill the types of banquet halls that i speak in. everyone was wearing spandex clothing and smiled as they stretched their way through my talk. at the end i began packing up, ready to slink off stage when a most uncomfortable thing happened. the sponsor of the conference came to the front and asked if the assembled group could share with me some affirmations regarding my presentation. i froze. i am not, at all, comfortable in these kind of situations. while i hadn’t been self conscious for the length of my talk, things changed drastically when i was asked to receive. i was so uncomfortable that i have no idea what was offered me. this makes me sad.
years ago my family adopted a tradition begun by my dear friend judi. whenever we celebrate someone’s birthday with them (which is frequent) we “honor” them. this includes each of us looking into the eyes of the special guest and telling them a thing or two that we appreciate about them. we’ve all become so practiced at it that it’s relatively easy to think of very specific things we enjoy and value in people. it’s always interesting, however, to see how people respond to this gift. some squirm and giggle and look at the ground. others cry. a few have become so uncomfortable that they’ve asked us to stop. i can relate to that last bunch.
i wish, however, for a world where we all were practiced in the art of giving and receiving affirmation. not easy, unconsidered affirmation like “you look great,” “good job,” or “way to go.” i wish for a world where we offered specific and vulnerable affirmations to each other. “you are a truly gifted baker. the bread you craft is a gift of love and i feel honored to partake of it.” “you matter immensely to me. i am so grateful for all the ways in which you invest in my life.” “the way in which you just interacted with your child was amazing. truly!” “you have such a sense of style. i love how you express yourself. it’s a gift to this world.” “the way you told that story/sang that song/wrote that paper/ran that race showed such passion. you inspire me.”
then i wish we would become equally comfortable receiving the kind of affirmations we give. that we could look into the eyes of the person trying to actively care about us and say “thank you.” not “i don’t know about that” or “it was nothing” or “you’re crazy.” instead, embracing our own discomfort and simply opening ourselves up to being seen...and lingering there.
vulnerability and risk live on both sides of this equation. to give or receive the gift of being recognized we must have a strong and sturdy sense of self. we must be willing to take a leap of faith that we do, in fact, matter. whether we live our lives on camera, on a mat, or eating birthday cake, that our lives count, our efforts are of consequence, and our ability to connect comes with responsibilities both to give and to receive.
to see ann curry’s statement and receipt of affirmation, go to: