There have been few homes I have walked into and received a more raucous greeting than that of Critter and Judy Murray of Casper, Wyoming.
The moment the front door swings inward there is a wave of excitement as they leap off the couch in a warm welcome. Between the two of them and their rambunctious puppy, there are arms, paws, and greetings coming from every direction.
I have no idea how many guests Critter and Judy have greeted this way in their nearly 40 years as a married couple, but I have to assume the number is in the thousands. Still, they have an amazing ability to make you feel like you are the most important person to ever walk in that door.
Critter and Judy are what the author and speaker David Brooks refers to as “illuminators.” Brooks describes illuminators as people who radiate positive energy and shine a light on others instead of themselves. They are marked by the characteristics of empathy, curiosity, and humility. They are known for bringing out the best in others.
If illuminators are on one side of a continuum, the other side of that continuum is what Brooks refers to as “diminishers.” Diminishers are people who take attention, power, or momentum away from others. While it may not be intentional or malicious, diminishers stifle openness and potential in those around them.
Most of us know within seconds of being around someone if their actions and words trend towards diminisher or illuminator. We don’t like being around diminishers and we certainly don’t want to be one. And yet, most of us probably spend far more time in the murky middle or even dabbling on the side of diminisher than we would like to admit.
While there are many ways to practice and coach yourself from diminisher over to illuminator, here are few ideas gleaned from all-star illuminators in my life.
#1. Don’t be distracted by yourself. Anyone who has had the good fortune of being in the talking to Jen Crouse of Sheridan, Wyoming knows exactly what it is like to be in the presence of an illuminator. Jen is so completely comfortable in her own skin she is able to direct her complete attention to the person sitting across from her. With Jen you don’t get a percentage of her attention, you get all of it.
I bet we would all be astonished if at the end of every conversation we got a report of how much time our attention was focused on the other person versus ourselves.
Next time you are in a conversation, keep a mental tally of when your attention turns to your own thoughts, insecurities, or maybe even your to-do list.
Once you notice these distractions, start training yourself to shift that attention back to the other person.
True humility in relationships means entering every conversation with the belief you have something to learn or a reason to be inspired by that person, and you show up fully to receive it.
#2. Look for potential in others. Each winter I look forward to riding snowmobiles with Andy Thomas of Etna, Wyoming.
He is one of the best backcountry snowmobile riders and hillclimb racers in the world, but he will certainly never be the one to share his accolades.
In fact, it is far more likely that he will start asking the people around him questions about their passions or how they are challenging themselves and growing.
This ability to see people for their strengths and encourage them to pursue their potential is another hallmark of illuminators. When you leave a conversation with Andy or other illuminators, your biggest goals and dreams always feel just a little more in reach.
To move farther along the continuum toward illuminator, you have to be willing to walk through the veil of small talk and engage in conversation with people about real things.
Things like hopes, dreams, disappointment, grief, and passion. And when you get to these topics, you need to avoid turning the spotlight back on you with a “one-up” story or a piece of advice.
Instead, listen with the goal of helping them resolve the dissonance or doubt within themselves. Illuminators can spot hope and passion in the smallest of places, and their light helps draw it out in a way that it propels the person forward.
#3. Be Kind Every Day. I will return to Critter and Judy Murray for one last example.
Each week a significant portion of their time goes to making the lives of other people better. It may be as simple as scraping a house guest’s windshield on a cold Wyoming morning or as big as sitting with someone through their cancer treatment when family members aren’t available.
Being kind and serving others is a worthy objective in and of itself, but there is an even larger impact.
Lifting your eyes to see the world and people around you makes it impossible to be the victim of your own circumstances.
Illuminators know that their own trials are minimized when they seek out ways to serve others and share kindness.
In thinking about illuminators like Critter and Judy, Jen, and Andy, I can’t help but notice they are also some of the happiest and most joyful people I know.
Perhaps the greatest gift of being an illuminator is that light shared with others comes back around.
In the words of Ben Sweetland, “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.”