Me as First Lady Barbara Bush, 1992.The beautiful pearls belong to my mother and I wore them again on my wedding day.
Humankind sent a beautiful light into heaven last night.
Barbara Bush changed the world for literacy and she changed it for love: “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people.” In 1992 my fourth grade program was a mock election and I was “elected” to portray Barbara Bush. It’s still one of my fondest memories from my childhood and made a lasting impression.
Of all the things I love to read, biographies are absolutely my favorite. Studying a person’s life, the way they lived, how they pursued their gifts and callings and made a contribution to the world, is inspiring to me. It helps me seek out models for the way I want to live my own life and how I desire to impact my own little corner of the world.
Women of superior character like Barbara Bush – and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa, and Mary Kay Ash, and your sweet grandmother, and that amazing friend we all have– had something unique figured out.
These special people are so captivating because they’ve embraced the reality that the most valuable contribution we can make to another human being is to make them feel noticed, important, and special. “Filling a bucket” costs little to no money, and it takes just a little time.
Mary Kay Ash’s encouragement was to “pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.'” It shifts the way you see a person.
In the chaos of our busy life, a thoughtful remembrance or surprising connection stops time for a moment and breathes humanity back into us. For that split second, the noise in the world quiets and we feel known.
I want to be the kind of friend that makes people feel like this. I bet you do too.
Speak in Love Languages
Can something as small as a silly joke or as simple as a word of encouragement do this? You bet. My love language is words of affirmation and it won’t surprise you that written words speak to me most of all. A sweet dry-erase note on my mirror can last me forever. A stranger at church this week told me they liked my hair pulled back and as Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
The best way to learn how to speak in love languages is to start with your own. Get good at it and then branch out to the rest. Try these with your friends, parents, children, spouses, teachers, students, neighbors, pastors, and even people you don’t like. They might surprise you.
Words of affirmation
- Buy and mail a silly card, snail mail (go to the post office to choose a cool stamp)
- Pray for someone – swallow your fear and use real words and just do it. It matters.
- Text a clean and silly joke or cartoon
- Tell someone why you admire or value them
- Write a post-it or tuck a note under their windshield wiper
- Slip a card or note into someone’s lunch or purse ninja-style
- Call to wish someone luck with a big day or call afterwards to see how it went
- When you connect: Get to a quiet place. Hide in a closet if you need to. A quality time friend will feel hurt if you’re distracted. (This is good phone manners anyway and we can all do better.)
- Spontaneously kidnap someone for 30 minutes for coffee
- Put your phone away. Nothing says “you’re not my top priority” like your phone sitting out on the table or in your hand or lap.
- SHOW UP no matter what. Carve out time for someone who needs it.
Acts of service (great for your spouse/kids)
- Take a task off someone’s plate without being asked. Fold a load of laundry, put a load of dishes away, or run an errand. Leave a note that says: Because you do so much, I wanted to do something for you. Thanks for being special in my life.
- A free pass on a chore for your children, again with a note
- Cook/deliver a meal
- Fill up a gas tank (or give a gas card)
- Give a friend a good, real hug (both arms, heart to heart)
- If they’re upset, don’t let them be in that moment alone. Put your hand on their hand, shoulder, or elbow
- When you meet for coffee or lunch, sit on the adjacent sides of the table rather than straight across. Some people get totally wierded out by this so know your audience but proximity is important when you’re connecting with people you care about.
A “gift” doesn’t have to be a purchased present. It’s the thoughtfulness of the gesture that speaks most.
- Drop off a coffee or iced tea at her work with a post-it happy face on it
- Fold up a cootie catcher with cute phrases/pictures (this is still fun for grownups)
- Wrap anything beautifully because the presentation is half the fun! You can make a box of tic-tacs fit for a queen when you package it right.
- Regift something funny or dumb. My mother and sister passed a mummified Thanksgiving squash back and forth for years and it never got old. Finding the hiding place was the best part!
Many of the home-runniest gifts I’ve given were less than $10. The cost was low but the thoughtfulness was high and the timing was right and that’s what people love and remember most. Did your spouse have a rotten day at work? Write the offender’s name on a sheet of paper, tape it to the backyard fence, and hand him a dozen eggs when he walks in the door. I once wrote an obscene phrase on a cake after one of Jack’s particularly pivotal real estate deals fell through; the bakery wouldn’t even do it for me. It didn’t fix the problem but it definitely brought a laugh and a bright spot in what was a really yucky day.
5 fun tips for making this easier
- Write important things in your calendar, plug them into your phone, and set reminders for the day of or the day before. Things Friends Remember: Birthdays, anniversaries, important dates like the anniversary of the passing of a parent or loved one, important deadlines, tough appointments, etc. Check in either before or after and just send a little encouragement their way. If you find out on Facebook first it’s okay – send sunshine anyway.
- Have a “way” you wrap things. Do you like bags, boxes, tulle, ribbon, tissue paper? Order a set of those things and have them on hand so you’re never scrambling. I even keep a little set in my car – scissors, tape, a Sharpie, and tons of notecards. That way when the thought runs across your mind, you can act on it and feel awesome instead of beating yourself up 2 days later wishing you would have done it.
- If you need a great hostess gift, do a little sleuthing to find out her décor style. Find a pretty candle or plant/vase for her home and hospitality, or shop small with your favorite home-based businesses to find a great hand scrub, etc.
- If and when you can, offer to pick up the tab for coffee. It’s such a simple gesture that says a lot.
- Use people’s names whenever you can. The sweetest sound in our ears is our own name and it makes us feel known and cared for.
Don’t overthink this, my friend
When you have a thoughtful thought, act on it. Go with your instincts because they’re probably right. We talk ourselves out of calling or checking in or sending the thing because we think we are bothering our friend or being nosy. That is our chicken self talking.
Yours might be the only kindness a friend might receive today. What a powerful potential to make a meaningful contribution to someone’s life. A question I ask myself regularly is, “how can I add value to my friend’s life in this moment?”
Most importantly – just show up for people. The best way to make someone feel important is to simply step into their world to “be with” them.
First Lady Biography: Barbara Bush (easy click)
Eleanor Roosevelt Biography (from the FDR library online)
Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink
The Mary Kay Way by Mary Kay Ash