A few nights ago, I asked Mark to come up with two adjectives to describe me, trusting that whatever he’d come up with would be complimentary.
“Hot.” he said right away. And then, after a little more thought, “Trustworthy.”
I’ve known Mark for nine years. Never once have I known he’s considered me to be trustworthy.
I was caught off guard and nonplussed. What, you? Trustworthy? said Snarky. “Trustworthy,” I thought. It felt like a blossoming inside. Like truth taking form.
In return, I told Mark he’s intelligent and loyal.
True and true.
I’ve been dwelling on this notion of two adjectives ever since.
Many of us don’t think of ourselves in only uplifting terms. If your internal Snarky is similar to mine, you might find yourself calling out all the things you screw up or don’t do well enough. Hearing complimentary qualities of yourself removes oxygen from the negative self-talk inferno and turns it into life-affirming breath.
For relationship building, consider asking your partner, your children, your parents, or your siblings to describe you using two complimentary adjectives (add the disclaimer – the idea is to be uplifting).
In return, describe the other person using two adjectives. The practice shifts your focus from less than ideal qualities to more admirable or attractive ones.
It’s easy when you’re with someone whose company you enjoy. But what about someone you dislike?
Think of, if you will, that coworker who drives you nuts. Who runs his mouth. Who doesn’t do her share. Who creates more work for you rather than lightening the load. Let’s face it. You can’t stand them and dream of the day they take a different job.
Do you have the person in mind? Okay, now come up with two adjectives. I’ll even give you an out. They don’t have to be uplifting adjectives, but they can’t be demeaning.
Two adjectives. Go.
Let’s play again. This time, picture the person who agitates you the most on social media. You disagree with their viewpoints. Their go-to posts are annoying. You know them personally and think their online representation is full of shit.
Find two adjectives. The only rule is that the adjectives can’t be degrading.
Struggling with this?
I keep coming back to a quote from Brené Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness”. In it she identifies one of four paradoxes to implement in order to experience true belonging, the first one being, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”
In other words, get closer than the computer screen. Closer than your cubicle wall. Closer than negative adjectives (lazy, incompetent, no good, worthless, jackass). Move in.
During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were asked to do something similar at the end of a debate. The mediator asked both candidates to say one positive thing about the other that’s respectful. You couldn’t fit more dislike on one stage…but they did it.
Clinton said of Trump, “I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted. And I think that says a lot about Donald.”
Trump said of Clinton, “I will say this about Hillary, she doesn’t quit and she doesn’t give up. I respect that.”
It’s possible, even with the person whom you dislike most, to come up with something positive. If you’re still struggling, I’ve come up with one adjective that is neutral and true for anyone: Human.
The person is human.
They have access to the same range of emotions as you – fear, love, sadness, joy, shame, courage, to name a few.
They face similar struggles as you – not belonging, not being enough, unhappiness, feeling alone.
They’ve experienced similar highs as you – achievements, gold star moments, and accolades.
They’re trying to make sense of this world – this place we all call home – just like you.
From that viewpoint, we aren’t in different “us and them” bunkers. We’re in one bunker, together, called the human experience.
We’re all human. Got it? Good.
Now go find a friend and play two adjectives.
If you need a little help to get started, here’s a short list of adjectives: