Water Your Own Garden is our way of encouraging you to enjoy moments of reflection, admiration and learning, and to then focus on your own garden…your life.”

Hello? Is there anyone out there?

June 09 2015

In my previous life, I worked for an amazing youth leadership development program in the USA. It was founded by an equally amazing woman who sought to provide opportunities for motivated, altruistic low-income high school students to reach their full potential. I loved working there.

Linda, the founder, was an inspiring, caring, and intimidating woman. We all greatly respected her and slightly feared her, for she was direct and honest about how we were performing. She wouldn’t hesitate to “teach us a lesson” if our approach was not helpful.

I learned a lot from her. But the lesson that weaves its way into my daily life is to always, always respond.

Have you shared news with people and received no response? Did you feel like shouting, “Hello!?! Is anyone there?!?” I have. And I’ve also been the silent person, leaving people scratching their heads and wondering why they never heard from me.

I believe that most of us intend to respond…one day.  It’s just that we feel we don’t have time right now, or we want to find the right words before we say something. But then more time goes by and it becomes increasingly difficult to say anything anymore. Our window for response has closed.

Does this ring true for you?

Well, I used to do this all the time. I’d never return phone calls. Emails would go unanswered for weeks, and sometimes never. And if I found out a friend or family member was going through hard times, like an illness or death in the family, I would do nothing because I didn’t know what to say.

Enter Linda, my inspiring and slightly scary boss. While I was working there, Linda sent an email to the entire organisation. She was in the midst of a personal crisis, as her husband of 30+ years whom she adored was dying. She wrote about her husband and how hard it was to watch him deteriorate. She alluded to the fact that she wished an illness would help speed up his slow death for the benefit of them both. It was an emotionally raw and confronting email. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.

A few days later, we had our regular national teleconference and Linda took a moment to share a voicemail she received from her four year old grandson. He wanted to call his Grandma after his Mum read Linda’s email to him. “Grandma, are you sad? Are you sad, Grandma? I love you Grandma.”

We all sat in silence, again unsure of what to say. Then, in a calm and commanding voice, she reported that of the 50+ staff scattered across the country, not one of us responded to the email she sent. We were about to learn a valuable lesson.

Her four year old grandson responded. It wasn’t dripping with wisdom or brilliant prose. It was simple, heartfelt and immediate and it was perfect. Understanding this was so important to the work we did with the amazing young people in our program. They deserved a response when they shared something with us because they were important to us. I realised then how valuable responding was to all the relationships in my life.

Since that day, I have done my best to respond - to messages, emails, phone calls, conversations or big news. I’m not perfect at it, but now I understand why it’s so important. By responding, I am giving back to someone who has just given to me. By responding I am being gracious and giving – and I am showing that person that they are meaningful to me. It may take energy and a bit of time, but I believe it’s one of the most important actions we can take to sustain and strengthen the relationships that matter to us most.

I am so grateful to Linda for teaching me that valuable lesson. And for all of us out there, just imagine how supported and valuable the people in our lives would feel if we all responded when news was shared – whether it is happy, uncomfortable or sad. We can get rid of that “Hello? Is anyone there?” feeling and replace it with “Hello, we’re here, we’re listening, you’re important to us and we care!”

Chelsey Cooper



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