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Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.
– William Arthur Ward, US inspirational writer (1921-1994)
This quote captures concisely the essence of all human relationships.
People believe flattery about themselves because they want to believe it. How many well known women have listened to flattery from their dressmaker about how beautiful they look in his creation, only to find themselves later on the annual Blackwell list of worst dressed women or on the pages of some scandal sheet whose purpose is to show the lack of taste of famous people?
Flattery may more commonly be called the “white lie.” The truth may be known to both the speaker and the receiver, but the receiver would rather hear the lie. Would rather believe the lie than the truth.
In some cases the truth is kept from the receiver “to prevent them from being hurt.” Almost without exception that person hurts more when the truth is found out later.
Who can trust a person who lies to them? A fan or worshipper may be encouraged to provide a white lie, but a true friend would not. A true friend, not the friends that are more akin to business arrangement partners.
People don’t like criticism, even if it’s true and constructive. Some people appreciate constructive criticism because it helps them to improve, but they are in the minority. Written criticism is always taken to be destructive and is more emotionally hurting than the kind delivered face to face.
What’s the problem? Most of us don’t know how to deliver constructive criticism tactfully, in a helpful manner. The use of language we teach our children tends to be for the purpose of conveying a message directly or the kind that tells a fictional story in an interesting manner. We don’t teach the language of diplomacy, which may explain why we have so many unresolvable conflicts among friends, problems that trash the relationships.
People are most hurt and over a longer period of time by being ignored. A child cries to get attention, not because of an injury. Some parents claim “Oh, he’s just crying to get attention, he’s not really hurt.” They don’t understand that a child can’t get too much attention, can’t overdose on attention and love. If the parent of an attention-demanding child withholds attention and love because they child has “already had enough,” the parent hasn’t been providing the kind of love and attention and support the child needs.
Couples who “draw apart” and find themselves “going in different directions” with their lives have not paid enough attention to each other, to the needs and desires of the other. In particular, they have not give enough of themselves to the need of the other for human touch. More couples separate because one needs more loving touch than he or she is receiving than for any other reason. That’s what sexual affairs are all about and studies show that two-thirds of men and more than half of women have affairs while married.
As social beings, we need attention desperately. Being ignored may be the worst thing that one person can do to another who wants attention. For a child, being ignored (not receiving enough loving attention) often results in values that are twisted by community standards. Many prison inmates, patients of psychiatric hospitals and gulpers of Prozac had childhoods where they didn’t receive as much attention from their parents as they needed. Some had too much of the wrong kind, of course.
“Encourage me and I will not forget you.” Think back to your favourite teacher, neighbour or relative and chances are good that those people encouraged you. Their encouragement helped you to become the marvellous person you are today.
“Love me and I will be forced to love you” is an odd way of delivering this message. But it gets the point across. Many people stay with their mates because the mate loves them unequivocally and unstintingly. Many people agree to marry their partner because they recognize that the partner loves them completely. Couples come together in the first place because they each believe the other loves them.
Love attracts people. The adoration of fans of sports, movie or television stars drives many of them to be as outstanding as they are because they need that kind of love.
The world revolves around love, at least the human component of it. People lacking a sufficient amount of the love they need do some unusual, strange, even illegal or anti-social things to get the attention of the person of their desire. Ask yourself if the rich, the powerful or the war-mongering people you have known (even from seeing them on television) get enough of the human kind of good love or if they lacked it and turned to another form of gratification in its absence. Being forced to love someone in Ward’s sense of the word means that a person may not be able to resist the love of another person if that love is sincere and true. Love is attractive.
Love is the most powerful force of humanity, especially effective if the love of many people is joined together for a collective work of good.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach children the lessons from this article as well as many others they need to thrive.
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