Validation – the Ultimate Art

We are on this planet for healing.  The great meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We have come here to overcome the illusion of our separation.”

220px-Thich_Nhat_Hanh_12_Paris 2006

Thich Nhat Hanh

When people ask me what is my spirituality or what God means to me, I typically say some version of:

“I don’t know much about all this, but I do have two experiences that feel true, even though I don’t know how or why.

  1. “All is one.  Everything is connected.  Whereas our limited rational mind – our ego – perceives chaos and separation, underneath that the truth is connection.  When my son was young, when something very synchronistic happened – like that just couldn’t be a coincidence that those things came together like that – I often would say “That was God winking at us.”  At those moments, my son – who often thought I was stupid, would think that was one of the stupidest things I had ever said.  Recently, when he was 40, he said, “Dad, remember when you used to say that a coincidence was really God winking at us?  I see it happening all the time now.”
  2. “Life is benevolent – it is constantly looking out for our good.  It keeps sending us those experiences we most need for our healing and growth.  If we don’t get the message, Life finds another way to send us the same message.  It’s a lot like the movie Groundhog Day: it’s a new day and life is going to give us a chance to try again, to see if we can learn what we failed to learn the day before.

We are here for healing – to remember who we really are.  We have mostly all had lots of experiences that did not reflect who we really are: our parents maybe had a very limited vision of our inherent greatness.  Only an exceptional parent really knows that we are a divine being and consistently reflects that to us.  Our schools mostly don’t support our uniqueness, our individuality, our spiritual beauty.  Nor our churches.  And on and on.

One of the most powerful experiences any of us can have to help us to wake up – to remember our wonderfulness – is validation, someone accurately reflecting us…pointing us to our beauty and strength and goodness.  We all have the power to offer this kind of healing to the people around us – and we can grow this gift of validation, our skill at reflecting the other person, constantly over time.  And as cashiers, we have the chance to practice it with customer after customer, every shift we work.

I have been very influenced by a video called Validation – the Parking Attendant.  I saw it in a creative writing class a few years ago and it has never let me go.  When I developed and taught a customer service class for cashiers here at Earth Fare a couple of years ago, it was a central part of that class – a part that our store manager Brandon still remembers vividly, two years later.  The premise is that the parking lot attendant, as he is validating your parking ticket, also validates you.  It’s a little fable that does show the power of saying true, positive things to people.  The concept is fully covered in the first seven minutes of the video, but the remaining nine minutes are also very sweet and worth watching.  It could affect the way you think of cashiering.

My stretch goal for myself is to offer a fresh, meaningful, true validation to every customer who comes through my line.  I never achieve that – if I hit something like 80% (I never actually keep track) it is a good day.  If they have just a couple of items to buy and you get no chance to really get to know them, it’s harder.  Or if there is a line and you have to focus a lot of your energies making the transactions happen – but fortunately swiping groceries is mostly genuinely mindless work, and you really can do this at the same time.

Some of my validations are not too creative: their hair, smile, blouse, food choice, eyeglasses.  But I have a deal with myself that the validation needs to be accurate and that I genuinely do appreciate the element I am pointing to.  You would be surprised how many people, if you genuinely admire their eyeglasses, will have a story about them – and often one they are proud of.  As a man, complimenting another man’s hair or beard can be slightly tricky – but if I don’t make really deep eye contact, they will probably be reassured that I’m not hitting them.  And if they know I’m not hitting on them, but still think I’m gay, well that’s not such a horrible thing.

I  have appreciated:

  • “your perfect nose” (she still remembers that one and laughs about it – “You just don’t forget stuff like that”)
  • “Your intelligence” – sometimes that’s obvious
  • “Your sense of humor”
  • ‘Your fast, improv-style sense of humor.  When I fed you a funny or BS line, you just ran with it.”
  • I love to appreciate couples: things like “You’re so comfortable with each other” or “You’re funny together.” couples
  • Or families (especially extended family) or parents and children.  I had a mother and six-year old daughter wake me up and learn a new format for affirming little girls.  I still use it with them.  I’ll say, “Honey, a ways back, a little girl came through who was about as old as you and about as pretty as you.  I told her how pretty she was.  Her mom said, “You know what we say to people who tell you how pretty you are.”  And, in unison, they said, “I’m pretty and strong and I’m smart – huh!” families

I have taught a course on this topic and am writing a blog called Healing Validations.  This blog is a little short yet, but already has some useful and even inspiring posts.

My mother was good at this. In my son’s last visit with her, at age 25 – just a few days before she died – she asked him what he was up to.  He attempted to describe to her his current fascination with making music on an Emu – a synthesizer.  She obviously had no idea what he was talking about, but thought for a moment and then said – very confidently – “I know you can do it.”  These were almost the last words he ever heard from his grandmother.

“To think something positive about someone and not to tell them is one of the biggest wastes there is.” (Majo)


4 thoughts on “Validation – the Ultimate Art

  1. “…to think something positive about someone and not tell them is the biggest waste there is!!!” I agree 100 percent!!! Share that love, those thoughts, that are on your heart and in your mind… it’s beautiful and it sure can change someone’s day…You are the real deal John Madden…I love your writings!!


  2. Pingback: Grounding Like a Mother-Fucker – Waking Up

  3. Pingback: Physical beauty – a validation to “leave out”? – Waking Up

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