Every once in awhile, we experience an epiphany from an unexpected source. Such was the case for me, when viewing a scene in the movie As Good as It Gets.
The film stars Jack Nicholson (Melvin Udall) as a misanthropic author, Helen Hunt (Carol Connelly)as a struggling waitress and single mother, and Greg Kinnear (Simon Bishop) as a gay artist.
The three characters are on a road trip to help Simon ask his parents for money. Along the way, Simon opens up to Carol about his difficult past and childhood. Just as he starts to share his story with Carol, she interrupts him and says:
No, no, wait…I’m gonna pull over and give you my full attention.
Carol pulls over to the side of the road. The exterior road noise is gone now. It’s quiet and intimate inside the car. Carol turns to face Simon.
Melvin, in the backseat of the car, doesn’t want to hear any of Simon’s heartfelt story. But Carol listens intently. Melvin tries to interject with his own tales of woe, but Carol stops him. She urges Simon to continue.
Had Carol allowed Melvin to hijack the conversation, or if she never bothered to pull over and listen to Simon, she would have missed out on a painful, poignant story.
A story that explained volumes about who Simon was, and where he had been.
Thankfully, Carol gave Simon a tremendous gift. A gift that many of us fail to give with enough frequency.
What is this all important gift?
The gift of our full attention.
Here’s the car scene from the film As Good as It Gets.
Yes, you matter to me
Face it, we’re all guilty. We’re consumed by our interests, wants, desires and passions. We pursue them. Through our work, on-line, and anywhere else that feeds what we crave.
In my case, it’s creativity. I have this need inside me to paint, draw and write. I’m drawn to good design. I get distracted easily by artful things.
None of this is bad, except when I ignore other people.
It’s almost always benevolent. I’m not trying to be mean, rude or dismissive. It’s just that, sometimes, when I should be giving others my full attention, I’m not.
The worst part is that people can tell when you’re faking it. Your kids can tell. Your friends. And certainly, your spouse.
Every time you focus on yourself over others, you tell them that they don’t matter. Whether you mean to or not, that’s how you make them feel.
My wife often tells me how powerful the act of validation is. I used to argue with her about this.
I used to tell her that if people constantly look to others to feel good about themselves, then their self-esteem is forever at the mercy of others.
We must not rely on others. We must lift ourselves up. Happiness comes from within. That’s what I’d tell my wife.
And I still believe it.
Except, if I’m totally honest with myself, I have to admit that it sure feels great to be heard. To be listened to. To be validated and told that, “Yes, you matter to me.”
It’s why artists put their work out there to be seen and bought. It’s why writers seek agents and publishers. It’s why bloggers check their analytics, followers and click throughs.
Everybody wants to be heard. To be listened to. To be followed.
Give the gift of validation
When was the last time your kid came home to tell you something about school and you said, “What a minute, let me turn off the TV and give you my full attention.”
When was the last time you sat down to dinner with your spouse and said, “Tell me everything about your day today.”
How often do you put down your iPhone, close your laptop or remove your earbuds in order to give someone your full attention?
Yeah, it’s been a long time for me, too.
The worst part is that when we don’t listen, we miss out on a lot. We fail to see what others are truly feeling. We deny ourselves stories and lessons that could enrich and improve our own lives.
Fortunately, we can immediately improve all our relationships if we just start giving the gift of our full attention. If we give the gift of validation.
Everyone matters. Everyone has a story to tell. It would’t hurt you or me to remember that, and set aside our own needs long enough to give our full attention.
Can you imagine? If we all gave just a bit more of ourselves in the service of others? A bit more listening and validation?
What a marvelous way to improve everyone’s quality of life. Including our own.
I’m John P. Weiss, fine artist and writer. Get on my free email list here to receive the latest artwork and writing.
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: John P. Weiss