“Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.” (J.W. Goethe)
Why is it so difficult to sometimes speak a word of encouragement, to simply say to the other “well done” or “great effort”? Not to engage in flattery or shallow praise, but to genuinely look for the good or the potential. Is that so difficult? How often have we ourselves desired this grace and welcomed it from others, we know how vital and uplifting a few words of encouragement can be. It can save us from becoming disheartened or overwhelmed. We may not realize it now- but that card we sent to congratulate a friend who has just achieved a hard earned success, the email to acknowledge an attachment of a first story, the tweet to publicly say how proud we are of a mate’s local award, the big hug when we are told of that long-awaited promotion- can make an enormous difference to someone’s confidence and desire to keep going. Few things are as beautiful as investing in people and in their dreams. We should not be slow to encourage.
Leo Buscaglia who was inspired to turn toward questions on the meaning of life after the suicide of one of his students has expressed magnificently what most would hold to be true: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Encouragement from en- (“make, put in”) and corage (“courage”) takes on many forms and can be expressed in lots of different ways. Encouraging and supporting the creative efforts of our friends which is one of these expressions should not be underestimated. Picking up an instrument for the first time, writing a haiku poem, taking a sculpture class, learning a new language, going back to college, let us not dismiss these efforts as insignificant or irrelevant to our own story.
So why do we sometimes find it difficult to say “well done”? Is it because we feel threatened in some way? Maybe we reckon given half the chance we could do better? Perhaps we might feel that our neighbour is trying to show us up? Are we angry at the world? Whatever the reason, it does our spirit no good to ignore the cheerful enthusiasm in another’s heart. It is such an awful thing to demoralize another human being. To the extent that we support and encourage our friend or neighbour in their new pursuit, we ourselves enter into that “cheer” and partake of the experience of a fresh endeavour. In saying “great effort” we reaffirm those lessons of old to do with personal growth and the acquisition of understanding. But we are also helping ourselves in another way, to exercise the precious art of listening. It is good to take the focus off ourselves and not to monopolize the conversation.
Encouraging others is an act of love and the practise of compassion. And for the community of believers it is also an expression of faith. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:5).