Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday's Word on the Street: Tender Words

Thanks again to Hoolie for inviting me to guest blog. This time, let me share with you a little slice of my day.

We have a young man in our programs - 6 feet plus, 300 lbs, chains and baggy shorts - who seems to have taken a liking to me. Just for comparison, let me note that I'm a 5'3" featherweight Jew in bootcut jeans from Old Navy.

Bootcut jeans notwithstanding, this young man called our office the other morning and asked for me.

"Who's there at the office Sarah?"

"Well, it's just me and Judy right now. Everyone else is at Shout! Factory [one of our mentoring programs]. They'll be back at 3."

To my surprise, he told me that he would come over right then. I let him know he could use the computer when he got here and that I'd see him soon.
And then he said, "Ok. I love you, Sarah. Bye!" And hung up.

In case you haven't guessed, it was the "I love you" part that got me. This isn't a young man I've ever chased down, picked up, or done anything extraordinary for. I don't even see him very much! And if you were to judge a book by its cover, you wouldn't expect such tender words coming from him. In fact, he's shared much less tender words which I cannot repeat here with large, large audiences at organizationally embarrassing moments. But that morning I got an "I love you"? Must have been my lucky day.

Improbable as this all seems to me, I remind myself of the power of "unconditional positive regard." Think of someone who accepts you as you are, offers kind words and a smile. That's unconditional positive regard. And that's what this young man has been getting from his mentor and from YMC for years. He's someone who is doing plenty of things "wrong" in life - dangerous, of dubious legality, I'll spare you the details - and the temptation is often to fix, to moralize, to distance. But being told you're an f-up only convinces you that you're an f-up. After years and years of patience and acceptance from YMC, he is starting to believe that he can be open, loving, and make good choices. And he is starting to act accordingly.

So he came to the office. Not having much wisdom to offer him as someone with such a vastly different life experience, I set the intention just to give him love back. So I sat with him and listened and asked him questions. We Facebook'd Stewart together. He showed me pictures of la Santa Muerte, and then showed me a website with an online wall where people do electronic graffiti. We practiced writing my name, his name, writing "YMC." He said if I practiced for an hour I'd be really good.

So often judgment doesn't get anyone anywhere, nor do our ideas of who we're supposed to be or what connections we can make with each other. "Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field - I'll meet you there" (Rumi). And that's the place where new and better possibilities open up.

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