The human being who
lives only for him or herself
finally reaps nothing but
unhappiness. Selfishness corrodes.
ennobles, satisfies. Don't put off the joy
derivable from doing helpful, kindly things for others.
The Art of Encouragement
One of the
most positive things that's ever happened to me has been a
subtle shift in my perspective and in my ways of dealing with
other people. I've always felt rather intimidated by and
isolated from others, so in my early years I spent a lot of time
on my own, rather than calling a friend (or someone who might
have become a friend) and asking him or her if he or she wanted
to get together and do something. But as I've spent more
time teaching and dealing with other people, I've learned that
there's a great deal of need in this world, and the people who
used to intimidate me now seem much more like me, and I can
relate to them much more. Now I can honestly say that
very few people intimidate me, no matter what their position or
"status," and I now see them as a package of needs,
just like I am. And I know that one of those needs is
something that I can help with, whether I know the person or
is for encouragement. Something I realized a few years ago
in one of those "Of course--I should have realized that all
along!" moments is that encouragement is absolutely
free. It doesn't cost me a cent to give it out, but its
payoff is incredible. A brighter smile, improved
performance on any sort of task, much more enjoyment in doing
something--I see these in people constantly when I or someone
else encourages them. I often read stories by adults who
have succeeded in life largely in part because just one person
saw their potential and encouraged them when they were younger,
and they have never forgotten those people or their words.
Wouldn't you love to feel that something like that would be
possible with you as the remembered person? I know that I
would, but unless I plant the seeds today, that sort of harvest
will never come to pass.
One of the
dynamics of encouragement is such that I rarely see any
long-term results. Yes, I would like to know that I've had
a positive long-term result on someone's life, but that's
something that I have to let go of if my encouragement is to be
sincere. I can't keep tabs, and write down all the times I
give encouragement and then call someone ten years later and ask
them if they remember the encouragement I gave them. That
would be simply weird, and pretty obsessive. I have to
trust that what I do I do for good, and that it will stay with
people. Much of the encouragement that I give won't be
remembered, but perhaps it can boost someone's esteem just
enough so that the next time they're faced with a certain
situation, they'll be able to do successfully what they need to
do. Besides, I've invested nothing, remember? What
I've given cost me nothing to give.
that "encourage" means to give courage, and that it's
the opposite of "discourage," or to take away courage.
learned that there are some rules to encouragement,
though. In no particular order, here are some of them (I
haven't learned them all yet):
Encouragement must be sincere. Without sincerity,
encouragement is empty, and it borders on useless
flattery. Encouragement's brother or sister is the
compliment, and it's important that sincerity be the base of
either. Saying "Great job!" to a kid who just
did a poor job is obviously insincere and untruthful, while
saying "Great try--now let's see if we can take this a bit
farther" is much more sincere.
Encouragement must be realistic. We can't encourage the
frail 15-year-old girl to try to become an offensive guard for
the Minnesota Vikings, no matter how much she dreams of doing
so. But we can recognize her other gifts and encourage her
to be herself and follow her dreams. She has them.
Encouragement must be given some thought. If someone
approaches me and says that she or he wants to get a divorce, I
can't encourage her or him to get a divorce. I can't say
"Go for it, if that's what you want!" But I can
listen, and encourage this person to do what's in her or his
heart, as long as they give a lot of thought to what they're
doing (and in most situations, they do--and it's not up to me to
say whether or not they've given enough thought).
We must not expect payback for encouragement. We shouldn't
even expect a "thank you," as many people don't even
realize that they're being encouraged. It should be given
freely and fully, and through encouraging others we can practice
the art of giving without expecting anything back. If you
get positive feedback, it's a bonus, but if you expect people to
acknowledge your words, you're on the wrong track, and you're
trying to do more for yourself than for others.
We have to encourage people close to us as much as we encourage
others. It's very easy to encourage someone we don't know
well, as we haven't gotten to know their abilities and
potential, so we don't know if they're living up to them.
On the other hand, when we know someone such as a family member
very well, it's easy to be more critical of what they do than
supportive. We have to leave behind unrealistic
expectations and look at potential, and not get frustrated if
they don't live up to the potential completely. They still
need encouragement, no matter how close they are to us.
We have to encourage ourselves. Everyone can benefit from
encouragement, no matter what the source. We need it, too,
and if we're not getting enough of it, we can give it to
ourselves. Of course, we can't expect it to suffice if
we're getting it only from ourselves, but we can make ourselves
feel a great deal better by realistically encouraging ourselves
to do our best and giving ourselves constant positive
messages. "I can do this--I've done plenty of things
that were more difficult" is a positive message--just be
sure it's realistic! You wouldn't want to tell yourself
this just before setting out to conquer Everest if you've never
climbed a mountain before!
Encourage people to learn from their mistakes, and move on in
their lives. Encourage them to leave behind the baggage
that's accumulated--they can keep it as a memory, but not as a
part of their everyday lives. Pain and mistakes happen,
and we can use them to become better people (more sensitive,
more compassionate, stronger), or we can let them determine who
and how we are.
potentially one of the strongest forces in the world. And
it's free--completely free. It doesn't cost me anything to
encourage someone, but the payback down the road--a payback I'll
probably never see--is more than worth the few seconds it may
take for me to utter an encouraging word or three.
imagine what this world would be like if everyone were to try to
truest help we can render afflicted people is not to take their burdens from
but to call out their best energy,
that they may be able to bear the burden.
Studies of volunteers have shown
there is a benefit to performing acts
of love for other
people. The irony is that it is actually in your best
to be selfless. The things you do for the
benefit of others not only
make you feel fulfilled, they
increase your chances of living a long and happy life.
Remember that an act of love always benefits at least two
|To complain that life has no joys while there is
a single person
whom we can relieve by our bounty, assist by our counsels or
enliven by our presence, is to lament the loss of that which we
possess, and is just as rational as to die of thirst with the cup in
Aunt Naomi was listing
all the things she was going to
do to help this person, her friend
stopped her in mid-sentence.
"Naomi, girl," she said, "you need
to resign as general manager
of the universe. You need to learn
that sometimes the best way to help
a person is to let them help themselves. Otherwise, they
never learn how.
And they are always going to make their problems your
It is one of
the most beautiful compensations of this
life that no person can sincerely try to help another
without helping him or herself.