Naming Gifts: An Underrated Power

Today I was winding down after an intense weekend when I had the random notion to check my “Other” Facebook messages.

To my surprise, there was a message there from a name I didn’t recognize but it was addressed to me.  The message speaks volumes to me of how those little ways in which one person can create change around them through seemingly insignificant acts of celebrating the gifts in others and in community around them.  Here is the message:

*  *  *

Hi April

Hope all is well, I will be extremely surprised if you remember who I am. 
Well I am C_____. We met briefly fo about a day in FL (about 3 years ago). 
You, I and R___ walked around in Orlando looking and admiring the black swan’s.

Anyway, just getting in touch and saying Hi, I am in Boston, MA.
I am writing to you for your compliment on your facebook page about me,
(you wrote, “great conversationalist”). It was my best compliment i ever got.
I have secretly desired for someone to say (for all my adult life) and you said it. 
Many have called me dogmatic, and many more have called me Mr.Theory.
Few have said I am manipulative.

It only you that have noticed, that, I just want to have a conversation and nothing more. 
Thanks a million again.


*  *  *

I do remember that day walking around with C____.  And I recognize how easy it would be for friends of C____ to never tell him that his great drive to hold dialogue was a gift. They may not have seen it as such, or they may appreciate it in some way, but aren’t accustomed to saying things about him or their other friends through the lens of “a gift.”

This touches me. First, because C___ thought to reach out to me after 3 years.  Second, he was telling me the power my words had to affect his life, yet what I said about C___–ie., naming his gift of conversation–was not anything particularly original on my part… I didn’t impart wisdom or sage advice from on high.  Rather, I just named what I saw.

But, it was something that I know is different from how we usually interact in community.  I know that me taking a moment to name C___’s strength as such came from a way of seeing and speaking about people that I have learned through my involvement in the world of asset-based community building.

This is a method of community building–and an overall view of society–that advocates viewing people and communities first for their gifts–that is, what they’re good at… what makes them special? I inherited a sharply critical ability from my mom and grandmother, and learning this method has helped me learn to interact with others in an infinitely more satisfying and productive way–not just professionally but constantly throughout my daily life.

Some people may say this is Pollyanna thinking–just focusing on the “good” can get us in trouble, right?  In the ABCD world we talk about half-full, half-empty glass. What is it–half full or half empty?

The answer: BOTH… but, you can only do something with the full half!!

In communities that are healthy and working toward their desired future, people know that it’s not useful to focus on “needs” and “deficiencies.”

Of course, it doesn’t mean you don’t exercise wisdom in how you interact with people just because you’re focusing on the full half.  You’re just opening your eyes to something valuable and worth liking and celebrating rather than getting caught up in critical dismissal of someone and losing out on whatever gift/skill/talent they might enrich your life with. That’s not Pollyanna–that’s practical!

When you shift your focus to gifts, you find things that not only are useful in community–who couldn’t use a great conversationalist?–but ways for people to feel cared for, valued, needed and good in community.  And, when you name or celebrate what’s good in someone, that thing tends to grow stronger.  As my friend Deamon always says, “When you celebrate people, they do it more.”

No matter how many times it happens, I am always surprised by the power of seeing and naming gifts. I’m grateful to C____ for writing me after all this time to let me know about the impact my words had on his life.

What about you…  What have you experienced like this?  Have you ever tried “naming gifts” in others and seeing what happened?


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