Encouragement, A Gift You Can Give For Free

IMG_0894Encouragement is something given for free, but nevertheless in short supply at times. Understanding the reasons for this may help us to share it more abundantly. Could it be that we are so caught up in our own problems and issues that we’re unaware of the needs of those around us? Or are we so focused on ourselves that we are afraid to approach someone suffering a crisis, because we might say or do the “wrong” thing. Perhaps we find ways to avoid feeling our own pain, and are thus unaware or incapable of understanding what others feel. Instead, we rush around, running from difficult emotions, but the effort leaves us with no resources to help our fellows.

Sometimes we may even want others to fail, as this puts us in a superior position. We can then congratulate ourselves on how well we’ve handled things and thereby avoided being in a similar dire state. Perhaps we have secretly envied certain other people, so when they’re suffering we actually feel a sense of satisfaction.

If someone close to us shares that they are having a problem, the inclination seems to be to figure it out for them, to solve the issue and thus rid them of their discomfort. What we fail to see is that by giving them solutions, we are detracting even further from their self-esteem by telling them, in effect, that we don’t believe they are able to solve their own problems. It is not our job to fix other people, but trying to understand and encourage them can go a long way toward restoring some of their positive feelings about themselves.

Encouragement can be as simple as giving a smile or a hug to someone you know who is going through a hard time. It can take the form of validating their feelings, but even better, suggesting a new and more productive way of looking at the problem. Focusing on that person’s qualities – such as inner strength, faith, intelligence, good judgment, sensitivity, practicality – sheds the light of positivity and demonstrates appreciation of people for who they are, in spite of their troubles. This is a surer recipe for healing their battered spirit than discussing what they did wrong that caused their difficulties, or how they could improve. Chances are, we all do the best we can – and make the wisest choices we can – at any given moment. If our best turned out to backfire or be insufficient, it is hard enough to face this without the sharp edge of criticism. Lessons learned from failure take time…patience and gentleness with ourselves and others are invaluable.

Judgment and having expectations are the opposites of encouragement. If we detect these two characteristics in ourselves, it is easy to understand why condescension or indifference might be our reaction to another in trouble. To the best of your ability, try to imagine yourself in the same situation and consider what reaction from others would comfort you the most. If we can do this, and practice at it, we will learn to give encouragement in a weary world, where truly, there can never be enough of this precious commodity.

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