A dear friend recently gave me a Christmas present, saying “I was going to write on this, but you know how I feel.”
This particular friend has been incredibly supportive through some very tough times, so I certainly know that he cares, otherwise he would be taking the sensible option of running like hell in the opposite direction.
But that offhand comment has started me thinking. Do we truly know how others feel about us? How often do we assume that people know what they mean to us and neglect to tell them?
Tell her about it
Tell her everything you feel
Give her every reason to accept
That you’re for real
Tell her about it
Tell her all your crazy dreams
Let her know you need her
Let her know how much she means
Tell Her About It – Billy Joel
In 1996 my best friend died suddenly in a car accident. Of the many traumatic impacts of her death, the one thing I could never reproach myself with was the idea that she didn’t know how I felt. We told each other eloquently and often. We wrote long and heartfelt cards for every possible occasion. We never let anything go unsaid. That’s a great comfort to me now.
Of course, all this eloquence is easy for those of us who are expressive, extroverted, and very comfortable (perhaps even a little too comfortable) with words. For others, making those feelings explicit can be a task as arduous as removing your own appendix without anaesthetic – and roughly as attractive an option.
Yet telling someone else how you feel about them, and especially why, is a hugely powerful act that can change lives, including your own. It can build and strengthen your relationships, and teach you a lot about what you find important in the people around you, simply because you have to think about it in order to express it. It can change the way others see you, and let them know how you see them. It’s an act of love, and of selflessness, to take the time to tell someone what you truly value about them.
Telling someone how much you value their honesty might make them rethink what they see as a personal liability. The other day I asked my husband if he thought I was a difficult person, and having very wisely ducked the question a few times, eventually he turned around and said “is that necessarily a bad thing?” Which sparked a whole conversation around what it means to care passionately about important things, and to want to put right all that is wrong in the world. It flipped my view of myself right around, and made me reconsider some of what I had thought were my worst traits.
When I ran for election in 2010 I received ringing endorsements from people who I didn’t realise had ever thought twice about me. Again, it caused a shift in my world view. When I left a long-term job in 2006, the comments people wrote on my card caused a similar mental shake up. We often wait for life-changing events to express how we feel. We say things in eulogies that we never managed to say in person. We tell people things when we are saying goodbye that we should have said soon after we said hello. Sometimes we never say them at all.
These are all tragedies. Lost opportunities to connect, to change a life, and to love.
Look at it this way – you have the chance to prevent a tragedy today, by telling someone exactly what they mean to you.