Illuminators and Diminishers

I am currently reading David Brooks’s book, How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.

What particularly captured my attention in his book is that he says that most people are either Diminishers or Illuminators. Diminishers make others feel small and unseen. Illuminators make others feel bigger, deeper, respected, and lit up.

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I would imagine we all know people in both groups. Diminishers are people who bring you down, are negative, blame others and don’t take responsibility for their part in things. Illuminators are open, curious, take into account other people’s feelings and thoughts and ideas and are willing to say: “I was wrong, I don’t know, I am sorry.”

Even just writing about Diminishers puts me in a negative frame of mind. When I review the characteristics of an Illuminator, I feel uplifted and light.

Over the many years of working with people, I have found the best outcomes have been with people who choose to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t.  There is power in focusing on the things we can control, even the smallest of things like bringing food to someone recuperating from surgery, making a phone call telling someone you are thinking of them, or asking someone to go for a walk.

Sometimes we must separate ourselves from folks who continue to diminish our spirits. I had an acquaintance many years ago who would only call when she wanted to complain about her husband. When I told her I would like to have a friendship with her but would not be willing to listen to her complaints over and over, she never called me again.

I would never want to hurt someone, or minimize their pain, but there is a tipping point for all of us when our need for expressing strong negative emotions and sadness can tumble into self-pity. Doing the same thing repeatedly with no result. Listening to that can be damaging.

Everyone has times when they are feeling down and negative and hopeless and need someone to share those feelings with. But there is also a time when we need to move on.

It takes work, practice, and patience to be an Illuminator, especially people we find to be difficult.

I must regularly refresh and renew my listening skills, hone my ability to empathize, to see people in a positive light, and be direct without being unkind.


It takes perseverance and willingness to train ourselves to look for the positive in other people and be their Illuminators.

Today’s Practice:

Who can I make feel bigger, respected and lit up?

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