Figurative Light

In every life I know, the presence of someone who gives us the space to transform represents a need and a gift. More than just an audience, this individual knows you and values what you say and do. You readily share with this person because s/he usually responds with a mixture of interest and half surprise. “Half” because s/he expects something really good yet never quite knows what that will be. The happy surprise helps build a pathway for whatever positive idea is shared.

Contrast this situation with the feeling of cold isolation. That feeling resembles Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) first identified by Norman Rosenthal, M.D. in the 1980s. Those down days during dark seasons bring about feelings that can be addressed by light. Dr. Rosenthal allowed himself to feel the darkness and began to study its impact on his own system. He followed this lead and explored ways to help others combat this devastating feeling.

Regardless of one’s own health situation, each of us can benefit from what I’ll call “figurative light.” Such light takes many forms. We may feel it in the presence of a welcoming friend, partner, or colleague. I remember early in my career being welcomed into the office of a boss I had asked to see. I told him I wanted to take on more responsibility. What he said next surprised me and gave me a renewed feeling that I had come to the right place with the right message. He said, “I’m glad you want to apply what you have, because we need it here.” The conversation continued over time, until I was asked to assume responsibility for an area that I loved managing. The benefit of being able to guide others and bring out their talent left me feeling excited about what they could do. I felt lucky to have a ringside seat as individual sources of talent built new programs and engaged with others as they worked together. I enjoyed the privilege of helping create an environment that worked.

I remember experiencing figurative light in college. Teachers have always been very special to me. I have been fortunate to take classes from talented people who gave the job their all. One such professor of philosophy inspired me to scour the works cited list that she provided. I dug in and read myself into a veritable stupor, trying to absorb as much about the field as I could. During a rather intense conversation about Kierkegaard, she told me that I was the kind of student people in her field dreamed of. That was a happy moment, because our sharing the learning I cared about was important and energizing to me.

There are, of course, people who drain energy from others. People who are passive-aggressive produce little to no figurative light. I have friends who tell me periodically how toxic they find passive-aggressive behavior. It’s a kind of poisonous injection that erases joy in the person targeted. I remember a point in my career when I would encounter an older individual who seemed to specialize in popping people’s balloons. I sometimes allowed myself to open up and tell this person about something that excited me. This seasoned “downer of the craft” would then say something that hurt me and made me feel powerless. Having risked by showing my elation, I felt stung in the seemingly deliberate attempt to put me down. The hurt came from this person’s refusal to share my joy. I mused to myself, as though to console my bruised psyche, that anyone who had been parented by this person was unlucky.

I was lucky in my early life, I was fortunate beyond measure to have people model playfulness and interpret situations with a light touch. Laughter about fun things rather than ridicule created a buoyant feeling. I discovered that this feeling tended to multiply in groups of family members and friends. My appreciation for this figurative light began at an early age and made me want to create the feeling for others.

Our lives do not come with a guarantee that we will have this light around us. One thing I do know is that keeping myself healthy enough to create that feeling for others is important. A major purpose of my life is energizing people. Over time, I have sensed that the reward of this is felt by others, just as it is for me.

Creating light for others is more than an act of grace. It becomes an investment in the kind of life each one of us wants to have. Living in the joyful spirit of others’ accomplishments and enjoying them necessitates giving them the space and light to perform their magic. Watching carefully with appreciation brings out a surprising level of change and growth. The act of noticing does, indeed, help create the phenomenon we experience from others. The very best part of that magic is that it will always be contagious.

© 2016 Work Transformed