Last Sunday, our church community was talking about the benefits of being a faith community and how important it is to encourage one another. After some great music and an inspiring message they turned their focus toward me and spent a half hour encouraging me as their leader. WOW! I don’t mind telling you that I cried. My heart was filled with encouragement. I really needed that and I was truly blessed by their expressions!
The dictionary defines encouragement as “the expression of approval and support, or the act of giving hope or support to someone.” Encouragement is a powerful way to build healthy relationships and it absolutely builds a healthy community. Dr. Wayne Hammond says, “Much of our society has been built on a deficit/at-risk model or approach to helping people through their problems. Historically, the social and behavioral sciences have followed a problem-focused approach to studying human and social development. As a result, the helping community has been preoccupied with the deficit or at-risk paradigm for understanding and serving children in trouble and their families.”
Working with youth over the years I was often asked, “Hey, you’re the guy that works with troubled youth, right?” I would answer, “No, I’m the guy that works with youth who have troubled parents.” I got a lot of laughs with that line but it was true. Many of us have grown up in an environment that did not encourage us. We either drifted through life bumping from grade to grade. Or worse, heard that we were no good or we had failed in some way. It’s amazing to me how many people have never had something encouraging said to them.
For a season I was teaching at a drug and alcohol recovery facility for men. After giving a talk, I was standing with them for a bit and chatting with a fellow in his 50’s. I mentioned that I was really proud of the effort I saw him making in recovery. This tough guy began to sob right there in the presence of his peers. It was a very intense moment. When he regained his composure I asked him what was wrong. He said, “WRONG? Nothing is wrong! It is just that I am so happy. You don’t understand. Nobody in my life has ever said they were proud of me for anything. You are the first person to ever say it.”
I could not believe my ears that in over fifty years no one had said that they were proud of him. Incredible! One by one, other guys revealed that was also their experience. I was blown away. Then and there we began to speak encouragement to each other, building each other up with words. In that moment, I saw the value of encouragement at work. The demeanor of those men changed and their countenances brightened; it was tangible. The value of encouragement is that it reveals the value of the person. Notice that ‘courage’ is embedded in that word. Encouragement literally means “to give courage to another.” It is a gift that gives them courage to believe they have value.
When we adopt a strength-based approach of choosing to see what is strong about someone rather than what is wrong, we begin to reveal their value to others – good gossip! When we build people up with our words, we empower them to have courage to overcome whatever is holding them back. Encouragement can catapult someone toward success, to go after their dreams. It has the power to transform a life and a community.
But why does it work? What is so powerful about encouragement?
Dr. Wayne Hammond’s work on strength-based practice has uncovered a few things about a person’s ability to process information. It follows a specific process of learning: FEEL – THOUGHT – BEHAVOR. How we feel about ourselves will establish what we think of ourselves and what we think of ourselves will directly influence our behavior.
For example, if your feeling is “I have purpose”, your thoughts will be “I can accomplish significant things with my life” and your behavior will follow: “I value the opportunities given to me and will do the best with what I have been given.” The opposite is also true. If your feeling is “I am a loser”, you may think “I will never be good at anything” and your behavior follows with “Why even try? I will fail anyway”.
The power of encouragement is that the words we hear shape the way we feel and therefore form the way we think about ourselves and then that belief changes our behavior in positive ways.
When we choose to encourage others, we are literally creating good feelings in people and forming the way they think about themselves, thereby helping them make positive choices for their lives. It is amazing that something as simple as saying something encouraging or kind to someone has the power to change their life. In my work with people I have seen it repeated thousands of times. It just works.