Saturday, May 28, 2011

Laws of Attraction

What first occurs to me is the notion that what we find least interesting about ourselves is often that which others find most interesting. Perhaps more significant is the fact that it's often the things that we find most disquieting or repugnant about ourselves that others find most endearing. In the end, what I think it comes down to authenticity: people are most attracted to the "real" you, whatever that is.

I know, that sounds a bit foo-foo, like "everyone's beautiful on the inside". However, I'm not talking about beauty, I'm talking about attraction; sometimes they coincide, but oftentimes they don't. For me, the most attractive feature in any person is confidence. It could be confidence that manifests loudly and boldly or confidence that manifests quietly and easily. It's the confidence to be whoever she or he is without facade and without apology. Perhaps that's what I'm getting at by authenticity.

Most of us have fairly narrow notions of what a confident person looks like: someone who never gets flustered, who's always prepared, who takes charge when things are out of sorts, who is not only confident, but also competent. However, confidence has little to do with leadership or taking charge or even being any good at whatever it is you're doing. Confidence is simply a clear statement of you, neither understated, nor overstated, just matter of fact.

Last night, Iris, Will, Scott and I around the living room talking for hours on end. The whole evening was wonderfully engaging and even though we had to leave the house at 4:15 this morning, we stayed up talking to well past midnight. As I watched Iris confidently express her thoughts, experiences and opinions, I was struck by how confident she'd become since moving here in 2003. Back then, Iris would mainly observe others talking occasionally expressing her opinion with the group, but more often reserving it to share with me later.

When asked her opinion about someone, she would never state anything that might be perceived as negative. In fact, when someone noticed that she never made a "negative" comment or a comment that someone might perceive as unflattering, Iris would respond that she had none, that she never judged anyone or anything as negative.

Then one day during an exercise at a personal development course designed to help people learn to provide and receive open and honest feedback in a way that lacked judgement, and fear, Iris was asked to provide an observation about someone else in the group that might be perceived as negative. She looked at a friend who beckoned her to bring it on, but said nothing. She'd start something and then pause, start and pause. Finally she blurted out, "I think your trousers make your hips look bigger than they are."

That was it. The woman to whom she'd provided the feedback smiled, welcoming the observation. However, Iris just stood silently. She cried on and off all night long and by the morning had lost her voice which didn't return for two days. In a raspy whisper she would say, I don't understand why I have to say something negative about people. I don't have any judgements of people. This is stupid.

However, over the next few days Iris came to the question, "If you have no judgements about what you said, then why was it so traumatic?"

She then realized that she not only had judgements about others, but also that she had judgements about her judgements, and that whether voiced or not, they influenced how she perceived and felt about others. Slowly she began sharing observations as they occurred without interpretation or judgement. Her expressions became matter-of-fact and over time loving and caring.

As Iris, Will, Scott and I talked about sharing observations and opinions, it became clear to me that the "what" of the observation or opinion has little to do with how it is received, relative to the "how" of it. If you state your observations with love and respect (not just in manner but throughout), then you can say anything that comes to mind. If not, even compliments might be perceived as slights.

It's an authenticity that is neither belligerent or mean-spirited. It's not loaded or manipulative. It's open, easy and honest, and to me, incredibly attractive.

Happy Saturday!

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