Encouraging One Another

As you probably already know from earlier posts, I am a big Disney fan. One of my earliest memories of seeing a movie was going to the Poncan Theater as a child and watching Bambi. In that celebrated movie, Thumper, the little bunny who is one of Bambi’s best friends, says the famous line “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Such BIG advice from a tiny bunny! And it’s important advice too…be nice to one another.

How we feel – our emotional state – whether we like to admit it or not, can be heavily influenced by the input and feedback we receive from others. The narrative we hear about ourselves can become what we think about ourselves. And that is true for others as well. What we say and communicate to other people can make them feel good or bad about themselves. The language we use can either build others up, or tear them down.

Especially in today’s atmosphere and culture, it is more important than ever to be a builder.

Let’s first talk about young people.

Research has indicated a positive correlation between what young people hear about themselves and what they believe about themselves. With the increase in depression and suicide, experts are shining a spotlight on the internet. Increased “virtual connectivity” has also increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. As young people spend more and more time online, they spend less time face-to-face with friends and family – the people who support and encourage them in life. Oftentimes, interaction over the internet is impersonal so others do not employ the same “courtesy filters” on their conversation as they would in “real life.” Under the cover of anonymity, they ridicule and shame without regard to feelings or emotional well-being.

Because young people are, well, young, the frontal cortex of their brains is not fully developed. This area is where social behavior is processed, interpreted, and moderated. Negative and cruel input from others – even strangers – can have a decimating effect on morale and self-esteem. Sometimes even the support and love of family and friends can do little to counteract the ridicule of strangers.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid helping young people understand how they can do, and be, better. It simply means that the words you choose, and the way you deliver those words, can do a lot to build them up or tear them down during this critical stage of development. Expressing appreciation, love, and support can go a long way toward helping them accept when suggestions for opportunities for improvement need to be made.  For example, if you see a young person slacking through a homework assignment and not doing their best, instead of stating that they are being stupid or lazy, say something like “Hey, look at you doing your math homework. I know you always like to do your best, maybe you need to take a little more time so that your teacher can learn that about you as well.”

When you see a young person doing good – being a good person or working or behaving in a way that is admirable - praise them in a genuine way. People who are appreciated tend to exhibit more of the behavior that they have been appreciated for. In other words, if they hear from you that they exhibit a certain positive quality, they begin to think of themselves that way and therefore are more likely to choose behaviors that line up with how they think of themselves. If you praise someone for being compassionate, they are more likely to be compassionate the next time they have the opportunity.

Now, let’s talk about adults.

Our frontal cortexes are fully developed, so why do we take personal insults or negative comments so….personally?

Just like in younger people, the language we hear about ourselves from others can become the narrative we use to define ourselves. If others say we are “fat,” for example, the next time we look in the mirror we are more likely to notice when we have put on a few extra pounds. It’s human nature. On the other hand, when a friend gives us a genuine compliment, that simple act of kindness can make our day. We gone on about our business with a spring in our step and feeling positive about the day.

What does that mean for us and how we interact with others?

What it means is that we have power – the power to build others up with our sincere and kind words, or the power to tear them down with harsh and cruel criticism. As people who want to make the world a better place, we should always watch our words, and speak kindness, gentleness, love, and understanding into the lives of those around us.