Last week, in my Weighty Matters class, I asked members to talk about their positive attributes. What made each of them special and unique?
I was met with blank stares. Well, some people stared. Others gazed down at their feet or at their notebooks. No one said a word.
“It’s hard, isn’t it, to identify the positive in us,” I said. “But it’s there. I can certainly see many great things in each of you, but you need to see those things yourself.” I paused.
My pause extended into another elongated period of silence. I will take note that one of my strengths is not using silence. Mr. Rogers was great at it, but silence grates on my nerves as it fills the room.
“Let’s try this,” I began again. I looked at one member of our group. “You know, Kate, one thing I’ve noticed about you is that you nurture others, and you always provide a framework to help other people feel hopeful. Whatever one of us says, whether it’s positive or negative, you find a way to spin it to positive and to be affirming. That’s an incredible gift to other people.”
“Oh,” Kate replied, looking nonplussed. “Well, that’s a really nice thing to say! Thank you!” It is marginally possible that I gritted my teeth a bit. I’m not saying I did; nonetheless, there is a small possibility.
“It isn’t a compliment, Kate,” I replied. “It is an observation about how you behave, about how you help the rest of us. Do you think you are a nurturer around your family and friends? Do you try to be positive for them?”
“Oh yes,” she replied instantly. “I really try to lift them up if they’re down or discouraged.” She paused a minute. “You know, if you asked me to list out what I do wrong or what my shortcomings are, I could write you page after page! But, I don’t think much about whether I have any good characteristics. It’s just not in me to do that.” I saw a nod from someone else.
Why is that, do you suppose? Why is it so hard for us to understand, acknowledge and embrace the gifts every single one of us has? Or if we can acknowledge those gifts, why do we identify them as somehow God-given and separate from who we are, rather than inherent to our personality? Rather than something we have deliberately nurtured?
I don’t have enough degrees to figure that out. Perhaps it is part of our inability to see past our weight; perhaps it is because we are women. Or perhaps it is simply because we are human and know each and every one of our own flaws.
It is really hard to identify our personal strengths. Yet, it is so important to do so. Acknowledging and accepting the good within ourselves is an important step towards loving ourselves—and it is only in loving ourselves that we can overcome the self-flagellation that suffocates our individual light in the world.
I remember how hard it was for me to answer this question. Finally, after days of stewing about it—there had to be something good about me, after all—I finally came up with something, and ran it by our youngest son.
“Luke, I am trying to figure out what my positive attributes are,” I said—and yes, while I was looking anywhere but at him. “I think that one of those attributes is that I am kind.” A pause, while I considered what I had just said. “Yes,” I said with more conviction in my voice. “I am a kind person.” I waited to hear his response, wondering if it would be disgust that I would say something so arrogant.
“Mom,” Luke said, “you are the kindest person I know.”
What stunning words, and how they reverberated inside of me! How they filled me with joy! I was kind! I had said it and I believed it, and Luke affirmed it! This wasn’t an attribute that had been assigned to me like the color of my eyes or the fact that I have a nice singing voice. This was something I had developed and nurtured, because it was important to me, because it felt right to me.
Acknowledging it, owning it, was indeed my first step towards acknowledging that I have value—whatever my weight, whatever I perceive as my shortcomings. And, when I think about it, really think about it, I have more gifts to give to the world than those perceived shortcomings that choked me for years with an overgrowth of neglect and weeds.
I gave my class an assignment for this week: to write out their strengths and gifts, to come up with a list of things that make them not just special, but necessary to all the rest of us.
Won’t you do this exercise with us? Please take the time to think about what you know you bring to the rest of us that no one can do quite as well as you. Read the list out loud, look in the mirror and say the words. Believe them, and internalize them, and take the time to recognize your own beauty and strength.
You have value.