Augmenters and Diminishers
Yes, I realize there are plenty of ways to judge your lover -- the amount of hair on his head, the sexy pout of her lips, the way just being with the person puts you on top of the world. But right here, I'm suggesting a different criterion. It's one that may not be as thrilling, but it comes with a lifetime of durable joy. For a moment, then, consider with me a standard based on self-esteem. Not vanity or puffed ego but a basic friendship with oneself.
That eye-opener was suggested to me years ago by the co-author of "Open Marriage," a wildly popular book at the time because of its daring premise. George O'Neill, sociology professor at a New York City university, was clearly feeling parental one summer night as we were alone on the deck of a lovely beach house on Long Island. This professor, a deep thinker with much more life experience than I (or anyone I knew at the time) had, was speaking to me like a Dutch uncle, the conversation full of warnings and good advice. Clearly, there were no romantic vibes between us, but there seemed to be an unspoken agreement on values and people. I sensed it and therefore was more receptive than I'd been in a long time. Instinct was telling me that this friend was giving me words to live by, advice to be remembered long after the end of summer. So this advice columnist became rapt listener and student.
The lesson was to classify people as either augmenters, people with a healthy self-image, or diminishers, people with a low self-image. Are you taking notes yet?
Augmenters feel pretty darn good about themselves, but they are not braggarts or pompous. They just have an upbeat, realistic, healthy regard for themselves and the people around them. They radiate satisfaction with their lives and their achievements and transmit that positivity to the people around them in an unspoken message: "I'm OK. You're OK. So come on up here with me."
Their counterparts, diminishers, are mired in negativism. Whether consciously or not, they do all they can to bring those around them down to their dour worldview, their negative take on life, people and the world in general.
Later, on the train ride home, it struck me that George's wisdom is probably the most important factor to weigh in our relationship life. Do we choose an upbeat, positive friend/partner/mate, or do we select (unconsciously or not) a downbeat, dour, negative influence? Particularly with the choice of a life partner, so much of what flows from that choice determines our future, our life's coloration, our family's mental health and happiness. (Thank goodness it was a long train ride home, enough time to feast on the concept and let side issues germinate.) I had just been exposed to a completely new slant on my life and my people choices. To this day, I mentally label the people I'm meeting on my life journey "A" or "D."
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Hint: In your next personal ad or on your online dating profile, I dare you to say you're seeking an augmenter. Most people will be mystified, but oh, the ones who respond!
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