“Our hair matches. We’re best friends.” These words came from my niece who, at three years old, is one of the happiest people I know. It was a beautiful bonding moment, one of the first in her young life that she fully understood that I am her uncle and not just a random stranger she sees from time to time. We were lucky to be able to capture the moment with a selfie (or seven), and her proud Uncle Brian has told everyone about his sweet, adorable niece and how her simple words melted his heart.
Yes, it’s a great picture, but it’s her words that stay with me. She reminded me of being young, when having one thing in common was enough to forge a new friendship. At first I chalked it up to her age; after all, a three year old has limited experience in making relationships and the bar tends to be rather low. It was a sweet, genuine moment and that was enough for me.
Then I realized that her older brothers, aged nine and 11, had a similar approach. My nephews give compliments easily. They’re quick to say I’m good at playing the piano, that I’m fun to play cards with, and all those little things we stop noticing and complimenting as we become adults. The truth is, it was all a bit overwhelming at times because I’m not accustomed to receiving so many compliments.
Adults don’t give as many compliments as kids and, when they do, they tend to be surface-level compliments. They’re nice and appreciated, and they also don’t pack the same punch as someone telling you in detail what they like about you. Genuine, meaningful compliments have a way of allowing you to see yourself through someone else’s eyes, and therefore we see ourselves differently. We feel seen and we feel appreciated.
Spending a week with youngsters reminded me of how much we change over time, and not necessarily for the better. So many grownups in our community want to expand their social circle and struggle to do so. It’s something I’ve noticed (and experienced) myself because it’s a problem that seems to be somewhat unique to our community. Many of us grew up showing others the parts of ourselves we think they want to see, rather than who we really are. That’s a legitimate strategy for surviving high school, but it doesn’t prepare us for life after graduation. We learned to protect ourselves by raising the bar for friendship and keeping out anyone who might hurt us. If we don’t learn to let people in, we’ll stay “safe,” and we’ll also stay alone.
What if we adjusted our strategy and lowered the bar, thereby making room for more friends? What if we took a note from kids and told others what we like about them? I’m a firm believer that we find what we’re looking for, which means that when we look for a reason not to like someone, it’s easy to find one. So, if we adjust our strategy and look for things we like in others, that’s what we’ll find. Simply flipping the script can have big results.
If you’re looking to expand your social circle, look for the things you like in others. Give compliments easily and remember that saying something nice about someone else does not diminish your own value and achievements in any way. If you think someone is smart or funny or talented, say so. Show that you are a safe, friendly person. Maybe we can learn from the kids on this one because they’re learning the Golden Rule that many of us have forgotten: treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.