Brief Encouraging…


–To Some, a Gift

–To Others, a Behavior Easily Learned

(To some it just doesn’t come naturally…)

Of course, there’s MORE…




And yes, there’s risk. You could flub it up. But then there can be great reward. Let me share two brief stories:

#1 My father told me as a freshman in high school he was terrified of speaking in front of people. Then one day a teacher forced him to read aloud in front of the class something he’d written. In the front row sat a beautiful girl he’d admired from a distance. “It was the hardest, and scariest thing I ever had to do!” he told me. So he steeled himself, walked up to the teacher’s desk and read loud enough for the people in back to hear, eager to get back to his seat. When he walked by the girl he admired she whispered, “You did a really good job, John.” “At once,” he told me, “my fear disappeared–forever.” Later, he was very successful selling ads–“and full-page ones, of course!”–as business manager of the high school yearbook; and as an adult he did extensive speaking at social clubs and professional organizations. It began with seven words from a girl who happily faded into the background leaving the door open for my mother later.

#2 In one of my university classes a fit, attractive, quiet young woman (name I’ve forgotten) sat against the wall and proved to be a very good student. She liked my class and I enjoyed her being there. During the semester I learned she ran track, but we exchanged altogether probably no more than a hundred words the whole semester as she entered and left the classroom. After finals she disappeared for a couple of years and then, unexpectedly, returned for another of my classes in the spring. She’d put on some weight and at first I hardly recognized her. In the middle of that semester, after more good work, I asked if she was still running. “No,” she said. “I’ve had a few personal problems.” I could tell she was embarrassed. So was I. I didn’t  pursue her comment. “Well,” I offered, “I think you were a good runner once. I can tell you’re a determined person. Why don’t you start again? I think you’d do well.” And that was it. I don’t recall ever personally talking to her after that. But later, after the school year was over, I was driving by the college with my window rolled down. On my left I noticed a woman running the opposite way along the side of the road. It was her. I honked once and she looked my way. I gave her a “thumbs up” through the window opening. She smiled. I never saw her again. But three years later I received an unusual-looking letter. It was postmarked Alaska, ran four pages, and was from her. In guarded detail, she talked about how her personal life had come back together, how beautiful her surroundings were, and how good things had become.  “That thumbs-up you gave me from your car was just what I needed at that moment.  My life has become so wonderful I just had to write and thank you.”

Encouraging is not the same as flattery–which is often, but not always, dishonest or deceiving. Encouraging requires at a minimum a pair of focused eyes and a pair of ears. You need to see how others fit into the world around you. You’ve been through successes and failures that others haven’t. You may be aware of–good–things or possibilities that another may have big questions about or not even see. Sometimes an unexpected nudge, or a quiet push, can be a big help.

There’s risk, of course, but so is interaction with anybody. So what! Sometimes you lose. If (as a male) you say to a woman acquaintance at a church supper, “That’s a great casserole!” she may wonder what you’re up to. (Church, or no church, we live in that kind of world. ) If you say, “That’s a great casserole! Could you share the recipe so I could give it to my wife?” you’re on safer ground.  If you say, “…I’d love to give the recipe to my daughter,” it’s even safer. If it’s, “…I’d love to give it to my granddaughter,” you’re in the clear and have probably made some woman happy. (I’m assuming in all these examples my comments are honest ones.)

Encouraging is a fine art. Remember that whether you consider this a learned behavior or a spiritual gift, when “practicing it” there’s no guarantee you’ll get it right every time. I know. Nonetheless, enter the studio of life around you and surprise some man, woman, or child with honest, appreciative words that aren’t likely to come from anyone else.