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The Grace of Acknowledgment

We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life, because of our quiet.

— WB Yeats.

The other day I acknowledged someone I’ve known for many years. It took the synchronicity of several events, conversations, and a Buddhist meditation to get to the quiet, “still water” place in myself that Yeats speaks of—a quiet that allowed the “ah-ha” moment to surface and lead me to a deep internal knowing—an acknowledgment was needed and most deserved. The knowing took me by surprise, and the time was now. It was like a line of dominos falling, click-click-clicking against each other, or a hallway of doors opening, one after the other, letting in light and the breeze of grace.

For acknowledgment is a universal human need. No matter your age, gender, race, culture, religion, or any other label, we human beings need acknowledgment like air, water and food, as vital as love and being seen and heard. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, created a list of these needs as one of the main tools in his work (there are 75 universal human needs on his list). In my coaching practice and in everyday life, heartfelt acknowledgment is one of the most common deficits in people’s lives that I see.

In psychiatrist Anna Fels’ book Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives, she writes: “It’s nice to think that skill and excellence are their own rewards, but we are social creatures who need to be recognized and praised…” Her book is, among other things, about the lack of acknowledgment as women enter the workforce, yet her statement applies to all of us.

We mirror our innate worth as human beings each time we acknowledge someone. With each Thank you for… and I want you to know how much your…, we share our appreciation and gratefulness for the amazing, miraculous fact of each other’s presence. We strengthen the web of connection that keeps us all afloat.

The giving of acknowledgment is also a deficit. With the grace of the other day still with me, and the poignant reminder contained in Yeat’s words, I invite you to take a moment and be still, to quiet the chatter that echoes constantly between your skull bones, and envision someone in your life that is in need of acknowledgment. Then go speak with them, pick up the phone, write a letter (!), or send an email. Text them if you must. Just let them know that one person in the world sees them for the kind, persevering, gracious, business-savvy, truthful, witty, irreverent, courageous, supportive, intelligent, stylish, creative, hang-it-all-out-there, or (fill in the blank) human being they are.

And make it a habit, like brushing your teeth. The deficit is huge. You can make a difference.


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