When God created the earth, what did He say? That it was good. What do we yearn for at the end of our lives? That He’ll say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Not only in the Bible, but in pretty much every piece of literature, ancient and modern, we can find this familiar theme. This yearning. This basic condition of humanity.
We yearn for approval. For praise. For confirmation.
This is not a matter of wanting to think we’re better. Just a matter of needing–yes, NEEDING–that basic encouragement. That we are good. That we’ve done well. That our efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Given how basic this is, I’m sometimes surprised by how easily we seem to forget that others have this need as surely as we do. But all too often, this is something we neglect to give those around us–our spouses, our kids, our coworkers, our underlings, our superiors, our pastors, our teachers, our students, our…fill in the blank. And yet, it’s been proven, time and again, that people respond better to encouragement than to chastisement. Sometimes we have to correct, yes. But if we don’t also add those positive words, people aren’t inspired to actually improve.
This baffles me. Kind words, encouraging words, edifying words are no more difficult than harsh ones. They don’t cost us anything. So why are we stingy with them?
When I was in college, I worked in the admissions office of my school, and I would make it a point to give my coworkers compliments. It didn’t start as pointedly. It just started as an honest exclamation. Something like, “Oh, I love those shoes!” But this coworker seemed a bit startled at the compliment. And very much pleased. So I started looking for things to compliment her on as the weeks and months and years rolled by. At one point, she mentioned how she appreciated my attitude, and I replied with a laugh, “Hey, compliments are free! Why not spread them around?”
This holds true with all encouragement. It costs us nothing to praise our family when they do something well…even if they’ve also done something else not well. And you know what? When we receive praise for the thing we’ve done right, we want more of it. So we’re going to do a better job on that other part too. We’re going to try harder. Over and again this has been proven as a better tool for motivating than just correction.
And I think that, as believers, this is even more important. We’re called upon to speak nothing that will tear each other down, but rather only that which will build each other up (Ephesians 4:29). Are we doing that in our churches? In our Bible studies? In our classes? In our committees?
As a writer, I’m keenly aware of the power of words. And as a reader, I will steer clear of authors whose stories don’t offer me hope, edification, and encouragement through their characters’ lives. But this is something I need to remember in all aspects of my life.
Our words make a difference to those around us. So are they making a difference for good…or for ill?
I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from a Quaker missionary. Something to keep in mind–that we need to seize each moment’s opportunity to share those good words, because now is the only time we know we’ll be able to.
“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I
can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now.
Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
~ ETIENNE DE GRELLET, Quaker Missionary