A Little Encouragement Can Make a Big Difference.

March 20, 2013

Up till now, I’ve been trying to help us understand the need for encouragement in our day. In Part 1, we explored the impact of a culture that focuses on the negative. In Part 2, we considered the impact of fear-based marketing tactics. We could continue to explore the reasons people need to be encouraged. But, I’d like to shift the focus to the positive.

A little encouragement can make a big difference. You can even start small.

Encouragement tip #1: Validate Existence!

Some people have been so abused or neglected by so many people, that just saying hello will make a difference in their day.

For example, the movie musical, Chicago, has a sad-sack character, Amos Hart, who exemplifies this. His big solo reveals the depth of his self-esteem crisis…

John C. Reilly as Amos Hart. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoMovie

John C. Reilly as Amos Hart.
Photo: https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoMovie

And even without clucking like a hen
everyone gets noticed, now and then,
Unless, of course, that personage should be
Invisible, inconsequential me!

Cellophane
Mister Cellophane
Should have been my name!!!!
Mister cellophane
’cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I’m there!

Now, his character is written to be somewhat likable and largely pathetic at the same time. John C. Reilly does a masterful job at portraying this. As if the lines above don’t paint enough of a picture, when the lawyer (played by Richard Gere) suggests Amos should divorce his wife, Amos rises to his feet and shouts, “I’ll divorce her!” Then he catches himself and says, “She probably won’t even notice.”

Amos might be a little extreme for you. But consider the words of Lennon and McCartney as they wrote about another sad sack character that they may have made a little more relatable.

He’s a real Nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

Even at the height of a meteoric success, Lennon still had moments of self-doubt and times of questioning his own significance. Lest this seem like an isolated feeling the song reached number three in the United States and number one in Canada and Australia.

Clearly, these songs tap into a nagging fear (insignificance or invisibility) that even the healthiest among us can cave into occasionally. I have even heard successful CEOs of major corporations share (especially in their early days in the position) that their biggest fear was that someone would catch on that they were actually clueless.

I’ll never forget an instance where I began to learn how such a little effort could make such an impact. My college years came a little later in life than most. Near graduation, I was 37 with a three-year-old daughter and newborn twins. I was taking a full load at Moody Bible Institute, working part-time at the radio station reporting for duty as early as 5:15 in the morning—needless to say, sleep was a luxury. I loved my time at Moody, but it was hard work. One day, I was walking down a hallway and saw a professor I knew and the (then) school president, Joe Stowell, coming in my direction. The professor I knew well had greeted me by name saying “Hello Kevin.” To my surprise, as I returned the greeting, Dr. Stowell also said, “Hi Kevin.” Now, I have no reason to think that Dr. Stowell knew my name at that time. As I recall, my day had been going quite well. I was not desperate for my identity and existence to be affirmed. If he simply said hello or even nodded, he’d have been a hero. But the thoughtfulness he showed by greeting me by name gave a little boost to an already good day. Over twenty years later, I’m still telling the story.

Similarly, but more briefly, Luis Palau was in the studio for a live interview on WMBI/FM one morning. I was working down the hall on the AM station at the same time but had a little time to sit in the FM sound booth to watch the interview in the larger interview studio. After the interview, Dr. Palau came across the hallway into the sound booth to say hello and shake the hands of the two of us in the room. Again, if he had simply waved and smiled as he walked by, it would have been a very nice gesture. The fact that he took the extra few seconds to come and offer a personal greeting made us feel good about ourselves and revealed his character.

In case you don’t know Drs. Stowell and Palau both have international platforms having spoken in stadiums and on radio—which makes their thoughtful acts that much more meaningful. You may be saying to yourself, “If I ever get to that level, I’ll try to remember that.” We don’t have to be world-renowned to make an impact on people’s lives. My point is that if people who are world-renowned and responsible for great ministries can put forth the little effort needed to be thoughtful and affirming, how much more should we be able to follow their example.

You already have people in your life who look up to you. They need to know that you recognize their existence and value their life. I’m reminded of a high school freshman greeted on his first day at the school by a senior that he had known from youth group. The senior called out his name from the top of the bleachers as the newbie entered the gym. That freshman was walking much taller after that.

Consider this the next week at church. Try to make it a point to say hi to a few people—even eye contact and a nod could make someone’s day. This could be especially important after the service as everyone is leaving. People usually trickle into church as individuals, but usually, we all leave together. Just validating someone’s existence could make a vital and life-changing difference in someone’s life.

Can you think of a time that someone encouraged you by calling you by name or by making you feel valued, welcomed and included?

Kevin Cunningham

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6 responses to A Little Encouragement Can Make a Big Difference.

  1. This is great. Encouragement doesn’t have to take much effort or time can make such an impact. For example, eye contact, active listening, holding the door for someone, these things can be an acknowledgement of another person’s value. Remembering someone’s name, as you point out, is so affirming! Thanks for sharing this inspiring post.

  2. I have learned that making it a point to remember a new person’s name (yes, it does take work) and greeting them by name the next time you encounter them, rather than just saying hi, makes all the difference in their world. It validates the importance of their existence. I have had many occasions to hear, “you remembered my name” from a person who has been beaten down by the world just doing their “duty” in greeting them. Encouragement is has its rewards in both directions.

  3. Thanks, Kevin. Great stories of investment. And, hello to a fellow dad of twins!!

    • Thank you, Matt. I’m looking forward to the stories people post one day about your investment in their lives.

      (BTW, sorry for the delayed reply. I thought I had already replied a long time ago. It may have been in on Facebook, etc. Thanks again for visiting the blog and for your engagement.)

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