I felt like a little kid lapping up my teacher’s praise today. The delicious irony was that the one praising me was my daughter. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I don’t tend to listen to praise. When I was leaving the staff of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes said in his best Boston Brahmin accent: “One thing I know for sure is that Charles is not easily impressed.” I need to have a lot of respect for the person praising me, as well as for the specific praise being given before I will give the praise much weight. I have to believe that the person could truly appreciate what I did and that they think what I did had merit. Otherwise it all feels like empty praise to me. It’s just the way I’m made. That’s why I was surprised to feel like I wanted to strut like a peacock when S said, “I love it, Dad! You got all the facts straight, you used a rich vocabulary and you covered all the ground.”
What S was referring to was an email I had written to her school addressing an issue which she had attempted to resolve herself many times, but she wasn’t getting traction on. Today, after another tear-filled discussion, it was clear that I needed to step in to see what I could do. I knew I was doing the right thing when I wrote the email this afternoon, but I was still surprised by S’s reaction. After dinner when we received an email response from the school which showed they took our concerns seriously and would address the issue promptly, she cheered! She felt heard.
I was hit hard by the realization that what had caused S the most pain around this whole issue actually didn’t have to do with the particulars of what was happening at school. It was the thing that wasn’t happening. She wasn’t being heard. She had information from being “in the trenches” which her teacher wouldn’t listen to. The emotional distress that the problem was causing was being dismissed. S knew the objective and subjective facts, as did her classmates, but the teacher didn’t hear her and that was most painful of all. As I read that email response from her school and saw her pain being replaced by joy, I also saw power.
Being heard gave S hope, and having hope freed her power.
Personal power is grounded in hope: the belief that the exercise of our power will make a difference. Without hope, our power becomes inert. Usually it’s best for us to rely on ourselves for hope, but there are times when the keys to possibility are in the hands of others and we need their help. In my case, I learned that when I work directly with Jung, the possibilities available to me multiply exponentially, as does my hope, and my power. I’m not powerless without her, but I am so much more powerful with her, and who wouldn’t want that!
This experience with S has made me appreciate more the power of listening, of truly hearing another person and the power that enables. It also helped me to see the link between hope and personal power. I look forward to experimenting with that link more in the future.