There is a new rule at my house made specifically for my 5-year-old. We call it the “10 Mississippi Rule.” If he is trying to get my attention or ask me a question, he knows to give me until the count of 10 to answer before repeating my name or his request.
This rule was created because otherwise Harper’s default setting has him utilizing the unabashed persistence that only comes with the naïve hopefulness of childhood and machine-gunning my name on repeat until he has my attention: “DADADADADADADADADADADADADADADAD…..”
You get the idea.
He wants me to acknowledge him. It’s a basic human need and while it’s unadulterated in a 5-year-old, it’s not something we really outgrow. It’s the same desire that drives our marriages, our families, our careers and our community involvement. We all need to be acknowledged.
Early in my marriage relationship, my wife and I would find that conversations about our jobs would often end in an argument – and we couldn’t figure out why. They would start like normal conversations, but by the end, feelings were hurt and one of us wasn’t talking.
Probably the best advice I have ever received came via a book by relationship scientist John Gottman. He writes that this phenomenon I was finding myself in is common. Too often when a spouse describes a conflict she is having with someone else, the partner’s first instinct is to offer solutions. It is a well-intentioned maneuver, says Gottman, but it overlooks the real need. The REAL need? The other person needs to be acknowledged. Learning to say “I hear you and that sucks,” has been one of the best investments I have ever learned to make in someone else.
It seems like just making sure people realize we know they exist wouldn’t be a hard job. But the speed of our daily lives, the fear of embarrassment and awkwardness and general self-involvement get in the way.
Ever caught someone peeking at their phone while you were trying to talk? Ever let someone over in traffic and they didn’t wave at the rearview mirror? Ever felt like putting in extra work just wasn’t worth it? Being acknowledged is important. It says “Hey, friend. We’re both stuck on this big rotating ball together. We have that in common at least. And we probably aren’t all that different overall.”
I have started my journey to be a better acknowledger in small ways.
Put the phone away as much as possible.
Start every email with a salutation. End each one with a digital signature of some sort.
Make a list of 3 people (outside the normal sphere of work and home) that need to be acknowledged each week. Send a text. Make a call. Schedule time for a beer.
And you know what? My life is noticeably getting better.
Turns out that a funny thing happens when you start acknowledging others. They start acknowledging you. You may not have even known what you were missing.