Words of encouragement

“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).

Compassion

Leunig  KINDNESS: Never underestimate the ripple effect

Leunig KINDNESS: Never underestimate the ripple effect

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” (Frederick Buechner)

The word compassion has a beautiful sound to it. For a long time the word has had an ‘onomatopoeic’ association for the author of this humble reflection. He has connected it to a “bell”, a campana. Not only on account of the similarity in sound, but more so because of the visual image of a heart which strikes like a beautiful bell to bring hope to those nearby. Etymologically, compassion, is originally from the Latin: com [with] and pati [to suffer]. It literally means to suffer together with another. Is there anything in the world more valuable and full of potential than comprehending the pain of another and doing whatever we can to relieve that soul of some of its hurt? We look for that moment when we might jump into the water to save a drowning child or to show our courage by pulling out a stranger from a burning car. Yet these situations where great acts of bravery are required, will more likely than not, never be demanded of us. The irony is that every day we can perform such marvellous acts in different and no less significant ways.

To enter into the pain of another, to share in the affliction of my neighbour, to have empathy and then to go beyond it and to do something in response, that is compassion. To come to the aid of another, is a great step forward in our realization of what it means to be truly human. Buddhism teaches that to realize enlightenment there are two qualities which must be developed, these are wisdom and compassion. It is said that in the Qur’an compassion occurs more frequently than any other word. In the Judaeo-Christian scriptures compassion is at the core of its ethical revelation which for many is summarized in the “Golden Rule” of Christ: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). Compassion is to refuse to give in to hopelessness, not only in our reaching out to another, but also in the very act of loving ourselves. The often misinterpreted German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer has put it succinctly, “Compassion is the basis of all morality”. It is also the seat of love for without it, love is without its flesh.

Compassion can be practised daily, in the ordinary things. If only we could know how many fires of human desperation we could extinguish by these simple and everyday acts. An uplifting letter of support to friend or stranger or better still, to a “foe” who might be suffering; the gift of your coat to somebody who is wet and cold; stepping into a hospital unannounced to ask if you might share some moments with the sick; practising the great art of forgiveness; taking the blame for another who might not possess your strength; stepping over an ant hill on your way to work; giving up your position in the queue to someone in a greater hurry than you; saying sorry when you don’t really have to; helping someone who is unsure cross the busy street; telling a blind man or woman that truly they are beautiful; sending a bouquet of flowers to a random address. Even a knowing smile can save a life. All of these things, this little list of charities which return to the giver a far greater blessing than what is given, have the potential to change lives. This person too, the recipient of your grace, will remember and add to this gift for it will invariably be paid forward.

Often enough compassion might be as simple an act as accepting each other, and understanding that each of us will grow and flourish in different times and in different places.

For others in those extreme places of unfathomable love and grace, compassion might well mean actual identification. As it did for those early missionaries who for the sake of their beloved lepers not only lived together with them in abandoned colonies, but also allowed for themselves to be stigmatized, literally, and to suffer alike in the flesh.

Here is the greatest strength of all, rising above our deepest fears and hidden prejudices. To step into the shoes of the other. There is the beginning.

“My dear Lord, please allow for these words, for these expressions of charity to take on flesh, that my desire to practise compassion becomes real and does not remain hollow. Allow for the eyes of my heart to see the presence of the Creator in each and every hand which might reach out to me.”