On Encouragement: Dare to Be Great

(Grant Cavalry Statue | Nicolas Raymond)

(Grant Cavalry Statue | Nicolas Raymond)

Don't create a circle with only "positive" enablers; surround yourself with people who also encourage you.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

"Encouragement," like many overused words, loses its classical meaning over time. Its meaning shifts based on how we want it to mean, rather than how it is meant to mean. Rather than having a thought transform us, we conveniently transform the thought to confirm what we already believe.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
— George Bernard Shaw

Ideas become cheapened and in the process, they lose their worth. It is like stating nothing since nothing changes from it. Without change, there is nothing. Change is how we exist.

Bravery in Fear

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Being brave and afraid is like having hope within suffering. If there is no suffering, there is no need for hope. It is only when we are afraid that we must be brave. Without fear, what need is there for courage? Fear/ bravery — a union of seemingly opposing ideas, but one can only exist to oppose the other. They exist in the same sphere of discourse, just as the yin circles around the yang, and within the yin is a smaller yang and within the yang is a smaller yin — and this goes on infinitely. In physics, this may be called relativity; in religion, this is called "God."

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?
— Erin Hanson

There is another word we use interchangeably with encouragement and that is "comfort." Comfort itself is a helpful practice but not in the same way as encouragement. Comfort is the state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. Encouragement is the act of inspiring courage. Since they exist on the same continuum, it is easy to see how the lines get blurred, but encouragement opposes comfort — and it cannot live without comfort. It asks for you to fly above, but there needs to be a precipice to fly from. That is comfort.

En-courage-ment is derived from the Old French term "encoragier." Encoragier means to "put into corage." "Corage" is derived from the Latin word "coraticum," meaning "heart, daring." Courage is the ability and willingness to confront fear, uncertainty, intimidation, and the unknown. Encouragement isn't about making us feel better or comfortable — that is no different from discouragement. Encouragement asks us to be daring, to have heart, to break free, to grow beyond our perceived limits. Comfort rejects growth; it wants us to be validated and complimented for being stationary. It makes us believe comfort is the new encouragement and old encouragement is discouraging.

When people today are pushed to do their best, you will most likely hear, "Hey that's not encouraging!" It makes me think of this line from The Princess Bride:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
— Inigo Montoya

As humans, we have an abundance of emotions, brain cells, and joints — we are designed for movement. When we are stationary, we develop chronic pain — internally and physically — just as we would from constant movement without rest. Just as a child will suffer from a lack of development, adults too suffer without development. When we seek encouragement, we're asking to be propelled forward — to progress. When confronted with our doubts (sensitivity) and our own lack of resilience, we replace the meaning of encouragement with that of comfort, and we get upset at those who push us forward. When neither we nor our supporters can modulate ease with push, is when we fall out of balance — inspiration becomes oppression.

On Changing Our Minds

What is mindset and how do we change it? I posed this question to best-selling author and Forbes writer Amy Morin. She said:

Our mindset refers to our overall core beliefs and attitude in life. So while someone with a generally positive outlook on life may still experience the occasional negative thought, if they’re determined to overcome adversity, they’ll get through it. Our mindset largely determines our behavior and the choices we make despite whatever circumstances we face.

Most people struggle to create realistic expectations. The digital age has definitely made this worse. We think everything should happen at the touch of a button — but in reality, self-growth occurs at a much slower pace. Whether we want to create a successful company, or we want to transform our bodies, we tend to lack the patience it takes to get there.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that we underestimate challenges. We think, ‘This will be easy,’ and we expect success to happen right away. At other times, we overestimate our abilities and think, ‘I can do that. No problem!’ We need to find a balance between a confident outlook and realistic expectations.

When we see progress, even if it’s small, it can help us stay motivated to keep going. Tracking your progress could involve anything from keeping a journal to marking your progress down on a calendar. Progress doesn’t always come in a straight line so it’s important to look at our goals as a marathon and not a sprint.

There is a Korean saying, "byung joo go yak joo dah" (병 주고 약 주다), which means "to give poison, to give medicine." It sounds contradictory, but it's the same premise of balance as Amy Morin is making. Challenge builds us up, comfort soothes and heals what we already have. They work better in conjunction. One without the other only risks our welfare.

You Cultivate Friends, Your Friends Cultivate You

Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.
— Seneca

Don't create a circle with only "positive" enablers; surround yourself with people who also encourage you. Not encourage you in the modern variation, but in the classical sense, in the way of challenge. They may make you angry at times, but they will also be the ones you thank, the ones who will influence you the most in your life. In award speeches, we don't thank the friends and accomplices who wallowed with us, stayed up and ate ice cream with us, finished a bottle of wine us. Those things are nice and have a place, but when it comes to appreciation for enduring influence and not immediate comfort, we thank our teachers.

Comfort is an agreement that we will not influence one another. Encouragement is an agreement that we will actively influence one another. There is ample room for both in our lives. Just as water flows in and out, we cultivate our relationships and our relationships cultivate us.

Comfort your friends but also challenge them. Listen to their ideas but also give them new ideas. When you're chasing after happiness, people can say, "Oh that's good enough. Good job," or, "Go! Don't give up. Keep pushing. You can do it!" Which is needed? The truth is, it depends. Often what we need is the opposite of what we want. But if we keep telling them what they want to hear, they are only getting more of the same.

Moralizing Behavior

In the right context, comfort can be medicine: imagine a sick child or someone who has endured a loss. In the wrong context, it can be poison: for an addict, someone in a toxic relationship, someone in a job with no future. It is when we assert morality (good and bad) into tasks, that we lose sight of context. We fear that if we do not accomplish what is intended or expected, we are bad. Even when no one tells us so. Because when we do complete a task, if we are always told we are good, then the opposite must also be true.

Just as when one child is told they are good, the other children assume they are bad. When we don't accomplish something, we must be bad. That is the framework of logic we have been taught. Only being given positive reinforcement does not mean we are unaware of its opposite. We do not need negative reinforcement, any lack of positive reinforcement will be considered a negative. We do not need to be told we are bad, being told nothing implies the same. That is the indirect consequence. Now everyone is being praised, which defeats the purpose in which it was initially created, to facilitate improvement.

It is in this fear of being "bad" or immoral that clouds our best judgment, suffocating us. In this fear of being hurt and harmed (monsters and cruelty exist in morality), we run away from conflict towards comfort. We want words of encouragement to be words of comfort. To be told we are progressing without having to progress. And sometimes being told we are "good" can be just as unnerving. It sets up expectations that cannot be matched. We eventually stop trying. We don't even want comfort, we just want to be left alone.

Courage is born out of vulnerability, not strength.
— Dr. Brené Brown

Growth is a system. We improve through trial and error not trial and validation. Without error, when we fear error, we rob ourselves of improvement. We mustn't take feedback as being more than it is. They are observations and they say nothing about our value or virtue. When receiving encouragement, we mustn't take them as ad hominem attacks. When giving encouragement, we mustn't dish out ad hominem attacks. When it is an attack on character is when we must weed them out. But if people we know are likely to engage in such indiscretion, we must ask ourselves why we spend time with this person? And they too must ask the same of themselves if you engage in such foolishness.

Variety Is Healthy

The truth is, some people will have breakthroughs and some people will break. It is a risk to allow ourselves to change. To allow ideas to penetrate our heart. We must be bold, to open ourselves to new light, when we have grown so used to dimness. Courage requires an ability to handle vulnerability, it rises from vulnerability. And vulnerability requires courage; otherwise, we won't survive it. When we avoid being vulnerable, courage has no room to grow. When we pretend to be strong is when weakness arises. If we are strong, then there is nothing left to see but weakness. If we are perfect, then there is nothing left but imperfections. Courage isn't an easy thing, but neither is happiness, neither is staying power.

Yin-yang, not yin and yang. Bravery in fear, not fear and bravery. Bravery in fear implies both exist (and exist within one another) at the same time and cannot exist without the other. Fear and bravery implies going from the singular sense of fear to the singular sense of bravery without fear. This is a contradiction and cannot exist in this way. It must remain relative.

We must seek comfort in discomfort, not comfort while avoiding discomfort. How can one be comfortable when one does not know what is uncomfortable? This is nonsense. These ideas denote variation, but if only one exists, there is no variation, then there is no need to denote variation. It is like being light when there is no heavy. If all things weigh the same, there is no need for words like heavy or light. Weight would no longer exist. And if all things were the same, then nothing exists. Absence is nonexistence. Imagine thinking without a mind? It cannot exist. You could not exist. René Descartes pondered this and concluded, "Je pense, donc je suis," translated from French, this means, "I think, therefore I am." We exist, therefore, we must change. To change means to exist.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
— George Bernard Shaw

Summary

When being encouraged to do our best, we can often feel sensitive and pressured. We can turn inspiration into oppression when we become too controlling — when we are too frail. In giving and receiving encouragement, rather than adding the pressures of morality (good and bad), change your perspective and acknowledge things as systems, processes, and feedback. Fear of getting hurt can muddy our judgment, but how are we to live without ever getting hurt? Happiness takes courage. And it takes a great deal of courage to live a daring life.

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