Many years ago Parade magazine presented what it called “A Short Course in Human Relations.” Here is what it consisted of:
The SIX Most Important Words:
“I admit I made a mistake.”
The FIVE most important words:
“You did a good job.”
The FOUR most important words:
“What is your opinion?”
The THREE most important words:
“If you please”
The TWO most important words:
The ONE most important word:
The LEAST important word:
Let’s examine this course a bit more closely.
It begins with a call to face up to one’s wrongs. One of the greatest obstacles to a healthy relationship is when a person becomes entrenched in defending or justifying himself or herself. Great injury occurs to a person’s heart when a wrong has been committed but never admitted to. In the July 1, 2002 issue of Psychology Today, Beverly Engel shares, “Apology changed my life. I believe it can change yours as well. Almost like magic, apology has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds and heal broken hearts…. An apology actually affects the bodily functions of the person receiving it—blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows and breathing becomes steadier.”
Next is a call to encouragement. When we compliment or affirm another person, it greatly lifts that person’s spirit. Mother Teresa claims, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” Diane Gottsman stresses, “A compliment wields great possibility. It shows respect, admiration, approval, gratitude, trust, appreciation, and hope. One of the most generous things you can do in your life is to give someone else a true and meaningful compliment. I encourage you to start with the next person you encounter.”
The next couple of lessons have to do with respecting the personhood of others. These lessons invite us to take a genuine interest in others, seeking their opinion and their permission. Some of the deepest pain in life comes from being ignored, neglected, dismissed or abandoned. But every time we seek a person’s opinion or permission, we show that person how much he or she matters, we affirm their personhood, we uphold their value in our life.
Then we come to gratitude. Brother David Steindl-Rast argues, “Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy—because we will always want to have something else or something more.” Johannes A. Gaertner adds, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”
The last two lessons address the poison of selfishness and the joy of relationships with others. St. John of the Cross remarked, “The virtuous soul that is alone…is like the burning coal that is alone. It will grow colder rather than hotter.” A Jewish proverb adds, “Each life is like one letter of the alphabet. Alone it can seem utterly meaningless, but combined with others it can be part of something beautiful.” ■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.