The art of appreciation

I met a woman several months ago who I really did not like. I had my reasons, and in my mind, they were good ones: she was prickly, irritable, opinionated, arrogant…. While I would have preferred to avoid her altogether, I found myself with increasing frequency having to deal with this difficult woman.

“We don’t care for each other,” I stated matter-of-factly to a friend. To which my friend replied, “How do you know she doesn’t like you?” “Because I don’t like her,” I answered.

The truth of what I said struck me a few seconds after the words came out of my mouth. How could I expect anyone to like me if the basis for the relationship was my own dislike? This insight prompted some additional thinking on my part.

I have seen this pattern before. The universe does not let me off the hook when relationships become sticky or tricky. In fact, it seems to provide more opportunities than ever, albeit to my initial dismay.

I say initial because, if I am honest, the most difficult and rocky relationships have taught me the most. They have given me countless opportunities to work the bugs out of my own reactions and insecurities. And they have honed my ability to change my mind, and in the process, to open my heart.

So back to my original story.

A few weeks ago, I had yet another miserable encounter with this woman, which left me feeling awful—insecure and utterly flattened. I stewed for at least half an hour before I heard a little voice nudging me in a better direction. What this voice said, however, did not excite or comfort me.

“Find something to appreciate about her,” it urged. “Her?” I whined. “Do I have to?” But a smarter part of me overrode my belligerent protests.

She has nice clothes, I thought and wrote down grudgingly. And she’s prompt…. To my surprise, after writing three or four things, my reluctance began to turn into enthusiasm as I continued to add to the list.

She’s confident and surprisingly self-aware. I’ve even heard her acknowledge her own neuroses and weaknesses. She loves her kid a lot. And I saw her prickly exterior crumble as she talked about helping people succeed.

For someone I didn’t like, I sure seemed to be finding plenty to appreciate about her. Then I realized she knows she’s socially awkward and abrasive at times—and that it bothers her. Recognizing this fact made my heart soften a little.

When I finished my list, I had uncovered a dozen things about this woman I appreciated. But more to the point, I felt better—much better. Creating the list shifted how I was feeling, which only five minutes earlier had felt like crap.

This is not to say that I immediately felt loving toward this woman, who would probably admit she’s a little difficult to love. But after creating a list like that, I just can’t go back to disliking her. Why would I?

There lies the magic. Relationships change when we change. And appreciating people, even when they make it difficult—or especially when they make it difficult—changes everything.

5 thoughts on “The art of appreciation”

  1. Excellent article! I read once that “people are not difficult, they are just different”. I try hard to always keep that in mind, but it is not always easy. My dad always said that if you looked hard enough you would find something to lke about everyone. I liked how you forced yourself to find something likeable in this individual and that it made you feel better at the end. Wish I had read this a year ago when I was dealing with an unlikeable person at work.

  2. I like how you shifted from thinking of her as abrasive and opinionated to realizing that she had poor social skills. They just don’t know how to hide it. Good for you. Good story 🙂

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