How to move the world onward and upward
Some encouragement for us all to give encouragement

Harold N. Miller

At the funeral of a well-known Mennonite churchman several years ago, those attending were asked to pledge to write or speak to five people some word of encouragement. The man had instructed the one conducting the funeral to do so.

The act of encouraging someone never seems like much...unless we're on the receiving end! The simple words of encouragement--someone complimenting us for something we've done right or someone noticing our progress--boost us and strengthen us. "That looks great" from our boss can fuel hours of more hard work. Mark Twain was noticing this effect when he said "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

Encouragement is what moves the world onward and upward. Compliments and affirmations have more constructive power than any other words.

Sometimes we need to criticize and correct. Leaders often need to explain the rationale behind choices they make, and that involves some form of criticizing the other choices. But no leader is considered great for his or her ability to criticize but for an ability to inspire people to reach new heights.

Leaders galvanize people into action by communicating to them that their best efforts and ideas are significant. The philosopher Lao Tsu said, "when the best leader's work is done, the people will say 'we did it ourselves.'"

Encouragement works wonders in marriages and friendships, too. Who do we like to be around? Those who like us and appreciate us. On the other hand, criticism causes withdrawal. So when we affirm another, they like us.

Also, when we affirm another, we like them! We live with whichever aspects of our friends we choose to dwell on. Choose the disappointments and unmet expectations and we live with diminished persons. Choose to affirm their positive qualities and we become more aware of those qualities instead of taking them for granted.

And, of course, complimenting another on his or her good points strengthens and reinforces the person in those very points.

Let's covenant to encourage five people this week or even today.

The Apostle Paul told a group of followers, "encourage one another and build each other up" (1 Thes. 5:11). Then he adds as an afterthought, "as in fact you are doing"--wanting to encourage their encouraging!

Let us be persons who take the effort to tell individuals when we appreciate them, when we have confidence in them.

Encouragement can be written as well as spoken. I know of persons who keep a supply of postcards handy for that purpose. A pleasant side-effect of receiving written encouragement: we can re-read it. A note from someone else can be reused as a self-administered booster shot.

Think of the last time you encouraged someone. Do it again.

This column appeared in The Leader (Corning NY)