Last week, we talked about kindness, and we’ll return to that again. This week, let’s explore “validation”, which edges into kindness territory in some ways, but goes mostly into the realm of politeness.
What is validation, anyway? In my experience, it’s mostly about letting someone know they’ve been heard and understood. Paying attention. Not agreed with, not accepted, not endorsed, but only heard and understood. I think the majority of folks fear that if they listen to anything that doesn’t coincide with their own view, they open themselves up to trouble, idea/philosophical conversion, or something even more dangerous. Not necessarily true. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” It seems as if validation was an issue even in ancient Greece. Validating is only about paying attention.
Why do you think it’s called “paying attention”? We pay with energy, effort, and sometimes great skill. Attention – both giving and receiving it — is not to be taken lightly. Studies have shown that any attention, positive or negative, is better than being ignored. Let’s be honest, at least with ourselves. What happens to us when we are ignored (another way to put it is “not validated”)? Nothing good, that’s for sure. We either become enraged or depressed when we realize we’re not being paid attention to. In either case, what is really being communicated is not what was intended by either the message sender, or the message receiver.
It seems to me that many of us go through a conversation waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can throw our two cents out there. Actually listening to what the other person is saying and what they really mean takes some work. And time. Being part of a conversation, even if only listening, is an active thing. In fact, there are tons of articles, posters, and audio-visual products talking about how important active listening is to effective interaction with another living thing. My Google search produced 23,200,000 entries on the subject.
Validation is one of those absolutely must-haves when you’re trying to get your message across. Or to make sure you’re accurately getting someone else’s message. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the same one I used last time, the third meaning of “validate” is “to substantiate, verify.” The only thing a listener is substantiating or verifying is that the speaker is expressing his or her position on an issue and that the speaker was heard and understood.
There is one critical underlying principle in all this validation business: The speaker, in and of him-or herself, has as much value as the listener. Period. The speaker, simply by being on the planet, has as much right as you to express him- or herself. We’re not talking about economic utility or moral behavior, but of a living thing’s intrinsic value. Just by virtue of being alive, a being has value.
So, where does that leave us? Remember what Aristotle said. Listen to and understand the other. You don’t have to accept the idea. It doesn’t hurt; it just takes paying attention. And isn’t that a kinder way to be?
Next time, we’ll delve into the differences between kindness, politeness, and thoughtfulness.