This is a guest post by Ashland, Oregon teacher/facilitator, Marla Estes, M.A. of the School of the Examined Life.
Some of us have a problem with the word “love.” First of all, it has many meanings and connotations. The Greeks have four words for love. Eskimos are said to have 100 words for snow; there’s an argument that we should develop as many for love. And because the word love is overused, it’s become diluted. For some, it has been tainted by past experiences. Further, the word love can become confused with other things, like needing something from someone.
A few years ago, one of my students shared that she felt she needed to know she mattered. I had a “aha” moment; I could feel the visceral effect that the words “You matter” had on me, much different than “I love you.” It felt clearer and cleaner, more direct, less nebulous.
Sometimes loving includes ambivalence. We often have mixed feelings towards our loved ones, the result of the natural, very human, occurrence of friction in our relationships. But, at least to me, “you matter” doesn’t fluctuate.
The dictionary says that mattering is “To be of consequence, significance, importance, of substance.”
Where love can be ambivalent, mattering is clear. I feel it or not. Where anger, hurt, or disappointment may eclipse feelings of love, I can still feel the “mattering.” I can know that someone matters to me, is important and significant, no matter what ebb and flow might be occurring between us. They have substance, and that they matter to me is validation that their essential existence has a place with me.
It seems, too, that mattering can be felt in a more global way, less personal. In some of my large classes, I don’t know every student personally or even by name. But I know that they matter to me, and I know that I matter to them. Whether I say it out loud or not, I feel it and I believe it’s felt by them too. I wouldn’t say that I love them, though mattering seems like a nuance of love.
But don’t take my word for it. I invite you to experiment in your own life: say it to others when you genuinely mean it, feel it (even if you don’t say it), and let yourself take in, really take in, that you matter to others. Let me know what happens.
You can find out more about Marla Estes and the School of the Examined Life at: www.marlaestes.com.