How do you experience being honored?

Last Updated on October 5, 2010 by Estrella

Tonight a very special ESL client honored me with flowers and dinner.  It wasn’t for her increase in English fluency or our conversations around cultural transition.  It was for listening.
Like many immigrants who left friends and family behind and start a new life in the U.S., (more specifically, Seattle) she experienced a period of isolation.  She misses the meaningful gatherings with friends back home.  This would be true for many people who move from one state to another.  Imagine adding to that the necessity to use a foreign language in your daily life.  As a tourist it could be fun.  But when it’s what you have to do in order to be understood on a daily basis, the feeling can be discouraging.
The dinner was to express her appreciation for the support I provided the last few months.  She said in so many words how much my listening meant to her.  My immediate response was “No appreciation is necessary.”  Then I stopped and rephrased, “I should receive that.  Thank you.  And you are welcome.”
I realized that I followed a socially trained response when others express their heartfelt gratitude.  In some cultures, that’s viewed as humility.  But is it true humility?  How does the giver feel?
I think my immediate response was like turning away a tangible gift.  How would I feel if I want someone to know how much I appreciate what she’s done for me, and my gift was refused?
In some cultures that may even be a polite and expected response.  In some situations, especially when the gift is heartfelt, I now see that a more appropriate response is to be open to receiving the appreciation.  The interaction feels deeper and more satisfying when that kind of honesty can be practiced.
Many of us (from different cultures) learned to refuse praise as a sign of being humble.  In some cases, that actually brings on additional compliments.  (What a good strategy!)  When we refuse the praise when it’s deserved, it invalidates the person giving the gift.  And it feels like pushing away their intention to express how they feel toward you.
Tonight was a very special evening.  Not only did I get to spend time talking with a woman who’s done substantial inner work and the fulfilling conversations that spring from her insights, I learned from watching my own response that I have grown in receiving, which is equally as important as giving.  I caught myself immediately.  Only a few months ago, when a client credited me with her doubling her salary, I pushed away the praise and said, “I could have said the same thing to 100 people, but you did something about it.”
I remember the look on her face was not satisfaction.  She wished I could have received her words.  I realize now that a more meaningful response to her was probably “Thank you for sharing the credit with me.  That means a lot to me.”

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