When I was in high school, someone wrote under her senior photo this quote:
If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.
The year was 1985. She was a shy and quiet girl who didn’t appear to have any friends. I had just arrived as a new student and barely knew anyone myself, but it saddened me; because I never knew if that was her way of telling us kids to notice her – to love her; to make her feel that she mattered too.
And I still wonder to this day what became of her life and her heart, that girl I never knew.
In 1943, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a book called A Theory of Human Motivation that famously revealed his theories on the hierarchy of our basic human needs.
On a high-to-low scale of 1 to 5, Love and Belonging placed third, sandwiched between Physiological (1), Safety (2), Esteem (4), and Self-Actualization (5).
Maslow's theory was that when we feel connected to another human being – either one-on-one, in a community, on a team, or as a family – we feel a strong comfort and sense of purpose, and we feel good about ourselves.
Time after time, I've learned this to be true. Over the years at the many self-growth workshops I've either attended or produced, whenever group circles formed and deep sharing began, I always observed two reoccurring themes unfold:
The first is that people everywhere, at one time or another, commonly feel a sense of overall unworthiness – of love, success, good fortune, or attention. It didn't matter if they actually had all of these things already. What mattered was that they didn't feel worthy of having them.
The second loss people experience is a longing for love and connection. I've witnessed people’s emotions and overall sense of well-being transform right in front of me, just by being able to share their feelings out loud and to the group.
When we offer our deep listening and rapt attention to others, they feel seen. And when people feel seen, they feel loved. Their unmet need for love and belonging, right then, in that moment and space, is met.
Spiritual author Marianne Williamson offers, “You have to make a space in your heart, in your mind, and in your life itself for authentic human connection.” We cannot attract in others what we haven’t first cultivated in ourselves. When we give respect, love, and authenticity to our own worlds first, our glow appeals to others, and the right people will find their way to us – people who we want and need love from, and people who want and need the same from us.
But we need to ignite this harmony on our end first.
It’s a matter of letting go of our egos and judgments and fears. It requires us to disarm and be ready to lay down our love wherever and whenever we feel called to. It means being willing to look stupid or feel rejected when someone isn't ready for us, or isn't journeying on the same path that we are. It’s knowing that whatever we give away, the Universe rewards us with more of the same. And it’s recognizing that just because one person doesn't show us love, it doesn't mean that we’re not lovable or deserving of love from others. Because we are.
Loving someone because we can, or just because they’re a fellow human along for the ride, is pretty cool. It gives us practice in the art of Giving without the expectation of Receiving, and it creates a ripple effect of people doing good for others just for the sake of doing it. Loving others celebrates the wholeness of our collective human spirit.
When was the last time you smiled at someone without getting one first?
One of my favorite videos on love is right here. Enjoy!