Photo: Rebecca Morgan, Gualala, CA
You may have heard the term “microaggression”—a form of bullying defined as brief exchanges that send denigrating messages to individuals because of their group membership. I believe we can broaden the definition to any subtle bullying—eye-rolling after someone’s comment, verbal digs and zings, ignoring someone’s suggestions in a meeting, and other disparagements. These can happen even when both parties are part of the same group.
We’ve all received these kind of disrespectful behaviors. They are designed to dismiss us, to put us down, to signal we don’t have value. Some of us have even perpetrated these, perhaps when younger and not conscious of the effect they have on others.
Because these slights are commonplace, I want to suggest we shift our focus to giving “micro-connections.” Even if you never inflicted microaggressions on anyone, every day you encounter people who have emotional wounds from such affronts.
Small kindnesses help salve those wounds, These simple acts require presence and awareness. Holding a door for someone, looking someone in the eye and saying “Thank you very much” for some nice act, or returning the shopping cart for a fellow shopper. Telling a stranger how nice he looks, or how she’s done a great job with her well-behaved child, or your appreciation for a service provider’s stellar service.
Why the term “micro-connection”? Because when you are focused on a simple kind act, you are connecting with the person. Just a simple, brief acknowledgement can boost someone’s mood and self-esteem. You are affirming they have value and they matter.
You don’t know what someone is dealing with that may have them feeling low. Or how your simple act may buoy their mood when someone next slams them.
I remember when I was meeting a date for the first time. We’d agreed to meet at a shopping center and spend the afternoon together window shopping and getting to know each other. I was early so I browsed the jewelry counter. An older woman shopper said to me, “I just want you to know how cute you look.” I’m not used to strangers saying things like this to me so I asked her to repeat. She said it again.
With a new spring in my step, I alighted at the agreed-upon meeting spot. Within 10 minutes, my date said, “I’m going to go.” I was surprised. I said, “Are you feeling OK?” He said, “Yes. I’m just not attracted to you.”
Wow! At first it stung. But the kind woman’s words rang in my ears. Soon I was laughing at how fortunate I was not to have wasted an afternoon with such an oaf!
It costs nothing to create a micro-connection. In fact, you may get a lot more back than you offer— a smile, hug, thank you, or memorable conversation. It’s worth it even if you get nothing more than feeling great about spreading goodness.