June 7, 2014

How to Bless Someone

As a parish priest, I tend to do a very specific kind of blessing. I bring the often-invisible imprimatur of the church into churchly settings using scripture citations and formulaic language. I often rely on formal and written prayers in accordance with the tradition that I have been given and am passing down. That is one form of blessing, but it's often too restrictive for other settings.

A lot of the time I just want to shed light where it hopefully needs to be shed, and to show appreciation for others. I want to say something less specific to the requirements of the institution and more specific to the life of one person. I want to build up.

Blessing is not just giving praise. It is putting your positive noticings about others into a concrete form that they can behold. It is specifically naming why you are grateful for someone, thereby clearing a space for the person to see him/herself as others might, and to feel profoundly valued as a result. It is allowing for a moment of your own vulnerability to demonstrate how others' efforts are helping things move along and get better.

Here's how I might do this.
  1. Ask for time. "Do you think you might have ten minutes later today?"
  2. Go to the person. Seek to see him/her in person, in a venue that's comfortable and known. 
  3. Stand up when you can and look the person in the eye. In this culture, these cues silently communicate respect.
  4. Be aware of power dynamics and the power principles involved in interpersonal relationships. These can never be fully set aside.
  5. Don't speak a minute more than you have to. This is not primarily about you. True brevity requires a bit of forethought. BUT --
  6. Don't use notes. They intermediate. Also, their very presence can create concern in environments where trust has been an issue. AND --
  7. Don't speak from a memorized set of talking points. It must feel strange to be "blessed" by someone reading off a series of mental cue cards or a dry recitation of statistics everyone already knows.
  8. Don't go on anyone else's behalf. This works best when it's one-to-one, with no one else's shadow (whether real or as an 800-lb. gorilla) in the room.
  9. Don't bring up any other business; this is the only purpose of your visit. There can't be a hidden agenda; it has to be a real offering all on its own. It is not an occasion for gossip or to forge ties over and against a third person, or to create alliances or divide up camps.
  10. Speak your peace. Here is a rough path of general points you can follow. Lists are by no means exhaustive.
    • Your interpretation of the facts based on a 100% authentic read of a person and a situation. You know:
      • "My guess is life hasn't been very easy for you lately, but a lot of us have seen you working so hard in spite of it."
      • "I've seen you do some really cool and creative things lately."
      • "You've taken some hits but you just keep getting back up."
      • "I love how you've taken this angle on things."
      • "You're doing a lot of things in a way that communicates care and thought."
      • "I've never heard you say one single negative thing about anyone."
      • Basically, whatever authentically represents the moment.
    • The effect the person has had on you.
      • "A lot of us are inspired."
      • "You've changed how I/we think about _________ for the better."
      • "I want to take _______ in a different direction because of you."
      • "I'm going to start following your example."
      • "I'm always glad when I know we're going to work together."
    • That the world needs more of this sort of thing.
      • "This is a better place to be."
      • "I'm happy I'm here."
    • That you just wanted the person to know all this.
      • "Sometimes it helps to hear someone else say it."
      • "It's easy to think about these things and then go on to something else, but I really thought you should hear it in this case."
    • And that's all you wanted to say. Oh! And --
  11. Say "Thank you." Because that's what Mom always taught you to say. 
  12. Leave a quiet space for response. (But don't say, "Now, do you have anything to say?")
  13. Be aware of how vulnerability works. When you open up a little, others might too. Ten minutes might become thirty, but that's up to the other person. In any case, don't stand out on the welcome mat for too long.
  14. Allow yourself the luxury of a few moments' silent reflection and gratitude. You may find that blessing others is a blessing that you yourself get to enjoy.
  15. Don't succumb to the temptation to become The Blessing Guy. People will start to avoid you and you won't know why. A good blessing derives its power specifically from the fact that it rises above the everyday texture of things. To make it an all-the-time habit is to rob of its real capacities while making it all about you. Don't say you weren't warned.
Above all, be kind, clear, and compassionate. And you will do fine.

This is one way we can make the world a better place.


leigh said...

I did this just the other day without realizing it. I was talking with a co-worker and complimented them on their attitude and said that I was trying to do the same thing. I followed just about every step you mentioned. I had no idea that I was blessing them. I just wanted to let them know that their presence had changed me. Thank you Torey.

Kris Litman-Koon said...

Thank you for this. It should be used by all pastoral care classes for insight and discussion.