Thursday, June 3, 2010

Encouragement?! Ha!

I’ve never been a huge fan of wanting to do exercises where the person is forced to say or do things out of what I would consider comfortable, these tasks, otherwise a horrible thing, can serve a good purpose, and they have a name: icebreakers. They help people get together and shed whatever social boundaries they may have put up with people they don’t know. You’re put in a room where you don’t know anyone and the guard goes up, at least most people will do this to some degree, even the most extraverted will hold back a little around people they don’t know well, at least out of courtesy for them in breaching some existing line.

Ice breakers are what they’re called, exercises where people are forced to certain rules to act in a specific way that somehow reveals to everyone else something about themselves while at the same time they shed that politeness and reservation we all seem to carry into these situations. They’re great for training or orientations, and they actually work, even with ninety percent of the people participating roll their eyes when the phrase is thrown out. I’ve done quite a few of these in the past few weeks, and at the beginning I vowed to change my approach to it all. “Will,” I said to myself as the leaders were explaining the rules of the ice breaker, “you’re going to enjoy this. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.” The words formed their thought-bubble goodness above my head, shortly followed by thoughts of lunch approaching, and as a result I had no idea what the ice breaker was or what to do during it. One victory at a time is a decent approach, I suppose.

That’s a long introduction to what I have to say. Here it is: we need positive feedback and we need it regularly. This may be an incredibly unpopular view in a culture that pushes for independence and needing anyone else for anything is taboo. Well, it’s not true. Sometimes we do need to be encouraged. This may seem simple and obvious, but if you stop and think about it, when was the last time you thanked the people in your life that sustain you. Stop and think about it. This blog isn’t timed.

It can be from anyone. If you’re a theist and believe in a God that loves humanity, even you, then I’d say a great place to find encouragement is through the many ways God has manifested His love to us, and you specifically. Go on, there’s nothing selfish about that. Doing a regular inventory of where God speaks and works in you is crucial to a healthy spiritual life.

I don’t want to overly spiritualize this practice or give it this great theological significance, so I won’t. I’ll only say it’s ok to ask for encouragement when you need it. Damn the bastard that ever shuns another person needing help, such a person has far worse problems than the one asking.

What I’m getting to is that this morning we did an exercise for our staff meeting where we put a sign on our back with our names on it and everyone else wrote a positive trait they saw in that person. Personally, I tend to focus on where people need to grow or where faults are, not because I have this thing in my craw that I need to work out, and if I don’t I remain this judgmental crab to everyone else. It’s legitimate to look at a situation and see where it needs improvement in order to help. Would you want to visit a doctor that only pointed out what was right with your health and never talked about what needed healing?

Wisdom lies in knowing when to play the doctor and when to play the encourager. If someone thinks they can fix any problem in life by a little positive thinking, they’re delusional and headed on the road to chronic denial.

I also want to avoid any “balance” or “middle of the road” focus on this sort of thing. “Will, I think you’re full of it. It needs to not be one or the other. It’s a balance. Don’t use one all the time. Life is painted in shades of gray.” Well, I never thought gray was a great color. Give me checkerboard over solid gray if I had the choice. The extreme center is not a good position for this sort of thing. It’s the wisdom to know which is proper, or even to mix the two. I don’t want friends who tell me what’s right about me all the time. Such a life will lead to a passive-aggressive sand pit I can’t escape where everyone eventually becomes so paranoid they interpret every little action as meaning something else. Blah. I’d like to trust the other person to tell me when something’s up. Ah, the sweet third way.

(I feel like this relates to a former post. Yes, I believe it does.)

What’s your style? Where do you find encouragement? Where do you find healthy criticism from someone you trust?

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