In the Image #19 – The importance of affirmation

In this still new(ish) year, I find myself searching out new(ish) challenges.

My brother and I have been trading off shifts driving a dump truck in Saskatoon, which is still cleaning up after the great Christmas Day ‘22 snowfall. Re-inserting myself into the truck driving culture has been a delight, a culture which mostly communicates with words where only one adjective can describe a shocking variety of nouns. I have moved in and out of trucking culture most of my adult life, and am at peace there. I have relearned that where heavy equipment is involved, walking within a stones throw of said equipment results in your work gloves smelling of diesel for the rest of their natural lives. If you are as charmed by that as I, perhaps there’s a career shift ahead for you.

Besides income, another attraction that draws me into this unique community is to simply be reminded how men relate in the workplace. (We are gender exclusive to this point.) Out of a perhaps peculiar sense of spirituality, I occasionally insert a twist into the conversation around the time clock as the crew gathers in the shop, puffing, drinking their Tim’s, telling tall stories.

A young man stands beside me, lighting his smoke, offering tobacco around, as we wait for the rest of the gang to arrive. He is the skid steer operator on my crew, the one responsible for chasing after the heavy loader and trucks, scraping up any snow that has escaped us. I point out to him that I’m envious of his skill maneuvering his machine in tight quarters around heavy trucks. He is a very good operator. My family culture has taught me that skilled operating of machinery is a highly valued quality. Equally, holding such skill is a reflection on the integrity of the operator. I see by his reaction that this is a highly unusual thing to say in this context. The men are warm and friendly, but offering direct affirmation calls forth a response not dissimilar, perhaps, to striking someone with that diesel infused work glove. There is a look of shock, a slight bit of recoil.

Then my young man reacts warmly. After we exchange names, (his is somewhat unusual and I tell him I have a nephew with a similar name,) he launches into a history of that name, what it means, how it describes him, what the Greek roots suggest. I know that he is my new best friend when he later asks if my brother and I are twins. It’s the highlight of my day. My brother is ten years my junior.

Offering affirmation changes relationships. This is a lesson that was driven home to me in decades of church ministry, decades of prison ministry, decades of relating to marginalized folks everywhere. Offering affirmation lightens conversations, lightens them to provide room for humour, which is always a fine addition to any communication. Affirmation creates spaces between words, spaces where trust can begin.

In the Gospels, as the story is told of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the voice of God comes onto that scene, offering affirmation. “This is my child whom I love.” Though we are well versed in that event, and preach and hear sermons on it, the activity of offering affirmation to another has somehow been largely lost, especially within the male gender. Certainly, in my growing years, I cannot recall hearing affirmation from my father, probably a reason why that relationship always felt complicated. Occasionally, we may step outside that unwritten rule, perhaps in a church setting, but to offer affirmation as one person to another in the context of real life, as in the workplace, is, in my experience rare.

We are created holy. We are gifted beings. We bring unique gifts to every community, every relationship we are a part of. As my partner Holly often reminds me, “Say good things to others before they’re dead!”

We are children of God, beloved by God. Go forth and offer that to others. Include the skid steer guy.