We all need validation.

People want to talk and be talked to. They want to be listened to, they want to love, and be loved, cherish and be cherished but, most often than not, they’re scared – scared of rejection, scared of looking weak or exposing their vulnerabilities. That’s the conclusion of a little social experiment I’ve undertaken with seemingly super-busy, robotic New Yorkers in the course of my fellowship year.

“Busyness is a modern insanity,” a speaker once opined. We sometimes feign busyness so we don’t look needy or not focused. But being busy doesn’t always amount to productivity. And in my experience, your rested self is your best self. And when you engage people instead of “appearing” to be too busy for anyone, it almost always expands your horizon.


Tom Otterness’ bronze mini-sculptures at the 14th Street subway station are one of my favorites

In the course of my Fellowship year, I can safely say that I have managed to find my rhythm in New York. Yes, it’s a fast-paced city, but I managed to make it work for me without losing my essence. I chose to, as Brian Houston says, “Live fully, love unconditionally, and lead boldly.” I chose not to go with the flow, but instead made my own path – which is somewhat counter-intuitive to “popular New York culture.”I rode the train with white, black, brown, orange, yellow, young women, middle-aged men, older folks, lesbian, gay, Muslims, atheists, Christians, right, left, center etc. and my experience was the same.

Once a conversation starts, we’re almost always trapped – we can’t get out of it. We share experiences in life and business. They share, I listen. I share, they listen. We discuss: how to thrive, how to do life better, how to find our rhythm in this city’s never-ending routine. I validate their journey. They validate my mine. And most times, we miss our stops. Duty calls! So we exchange cards or numbers and we meet again to do life together.

These experiences reinforced the truth: as humans, we need encouragement, relationships, and community to remind us of who we truly are in this forgetful world. We need people to encourage us to do that which we can do but remain oblivious of. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that I discovered is that people really care (not all, but most). They do care and they want the same things we want. But culture and other socio-economic prejudices contend with their innermost desire. So when questions like “How do I start?”  “What do I say?” “Should I be bothered?” pops up as they empathize with people from other backgrounds, popular culture conditions them to “mind their business.”

But let me challenge you if you end up serving in New York, make sure you go out and be brave.  Say “hi”, compliment someone, help a stranger – and even if you get burnt, be grateful for the sky and the sun and, sometimes, the cold winter or the cool breeze on your skin of bronze or ivory castle. Go ahead and validate someone every day –  it just might lead to the change that you seek.



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