The Generosity of Encouragement

Praise the good. Ignore the bad. – James Clear

When someone encourages you, it has to be one of the best feelings possible. A kind word that uplifts can shift the trajectory of someone’s life. The most significant memories that we have can be a time when someone we respect spoke words that brought life to us.

At the same time, we know that saying something negative to someone can carry much more weight than an encouraging word. The anecdotal reflection of it taking nine encouraging comments to overcome one negative comment certainly rings true. Which makes encouragement all the more important.

So how do we do it?

Be Genuine

You can’t just make up stuff that you don’t mean and expect it to land well. People can tell if you are being genuine or not and building someone up only works if what you are saying about them is true. If you are struggling to find something to be encouraging about, that’s on you to figure out. Every person around us has something worthwhile to recognize and are providing value to our lives. It just takes a moment to stop and find it sometimes.

Be Meaningful

“You look nice today” is nice to hear but that is not encouragement. There is no depth to that. Come up with something that carries meaning to the person.

“I like the way that you think” – is more about who the person is over what they do. This is a fundamental way to encourage people just for being them.

“You have made two really great decisions this week, and this is what they are…” – Recognising great behaviour is an easy way to encourage. The more specific the better.

“I am really grateful for your positive attitude. Knowing that I can rely on you makes my day easier” – Showing how someone’s behaviour or attitude makes a positive impact on you highlights how important they are.

Be Timely

Don’t wait. When someone does something worth noticing, do it in the moment or shortly afterwards. It’s a little difficult to feel encouraged about something that happened 10 years ago. In saying that, it’s never too late, so if that’s all that you have, feel free to encourage someone about something that they did 10 years ago.

Be Consistent

Don’t save it up to give it all in a once off overload of encouragement. Plant small seeds of encouragement consistently which will create a culture of encouragement around you.

Encouragement is an amazing act of generosity. It costs you nothing, apart from some brain energy, and the benefits to all involved are significant.

Your Growth is a Gift

Have you ever thought about what people are missing out on because you are not growing? What impact is it having on those around you when you are stuck doing the same things you have always done, knowing the same things you always knew, being the same person you always were? It may not sound like a big deal and maybe personal growth is not your ‘thing’, but it’s not about you. It’s about the people that you love that are in your life, and then then people that they love that are in their lives. We owe it them to be the best version of ourselves so that we, in turn, can help them be the best versions of themselves…and so on.

Here’s a harsh truth: If you think you are currently the best you can possibly be, you’re not. (Ouch). There is always more. There are things that you don’t know yet that will change the way you turn up when you learn them. There are things that you don’t know how to do yet which will be groundbreaking in your life and in those around you; groundbreaking in the sense that it will break new ground so you can build something new on it.

There is always more to learn. Always more to discover. Always more to understand. Not so that you can get to the finish line of learning, but so you can improve and make everything you touch just that little bit better.

How many people can reap the benefits of your growth?

I Don’t Have It Nailed Yet

Life’s a journey. One of growth, discovery and failure/learning. I’ve been writing and speaking about generosity for a number of years now. About all the benefits that it can bring, and how it improves your life. Mostly, I have been writing and speaking to myself, to help me in my personal journey of generosity. My hope is that I have become a more generous person during that time, and my future hope is that I will continue to become more generous. I don’t think I’ll reach the point where I am generous enough and can stop. Not for a long time anyway, because I see areas in my life where I can be more generous. All this to say, I am the Generosity Guy only because I point people to the benefits of living a generous lifestyle, not because I have the generous lifestyle nailed.

What are the benefits of a generous lifestyle? They are numerous, but essentially it is good for the people that you are generous to, it is good for the people around those that you are generous to and it’s good for you – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

There are very few things that a generous act can’t fix.

Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t come easy for you, or if you really wish you could be more generous that you are but can’t seem to find a way forward. That’s okay. It’s a journey that we can be on together, and it happens one generous act at a time.

The generous lifestyle is like building a muscle, but unlike super gross bodybuilding guy, you can’t build your generosity muscle up too much. So keep at it.

Reproduction

“You teach what you know, but you reproduce who you are”. John Maxwell

It’s Gandhi’s most famous quote, but perhaps the true impact of “be (ing) the change you wish to see in the world” goes beyond just doing good things, it is more about be-ing.

We can talk and use amazing language to describe what kind of family we want to have, what kind of organisation we want to work for or city we want to live in. We can lead from the front in outlining what the behaviours are we want to see from people. Heck, sometimes we can even do those things, but if it isn’t a natural out-flowing of who we are then we are just wasting our time.

If you find yourself in the place where you aren’t the type of person who does the things that you would like to see (firstly, welcome to being human), then become that person. If you find yourself in the place where you don’t like what you are reproducing in others around you, then become what you want to see in others. The beauty of it all is that you can change who you are. (Which is simple because we have unlimited access to resources to do it, but it is certainly not easy.)

If you want to see generosity in those around you, become someone who is generous. If you want to see thoughtfulness, become someone who is thoughtful. If you want to see creativity, become someone who is creative. Talking about and teaching these things won’t reproduce in others until you live it. We don’t need more people with knowledge of generosity, we need more people with generous behaviour.

You can’t just talk about things, you need to become what you want to see.

Was That Tit or Tat?

Two truths and a lie:

  • We don’t control what happens in the world
  • We get to choose how we respond to things that happen
  • Some people know how to push our buttons and they make us angry or force us to respond negatively

The last one is a lie. No one can make you feel any emotion. Our emotions are our own response to what is happening inside us.

Harsh, but true.

When how we feel depends on what happens around us, it can lead to dangerous outcomes. We get caught up in what is happening to us, how people are hurting us, how those around us are making us feel, that we respond with raw emotion and anger in an attempt to hurt the person back.

The trouble is we don’t see that we are doing exactly what we are getting upset about. We only see what is happening to us and not the impact our actions are having on, which is probably how someone hurt us in the first place – they were dishing out the pain they have received on to others. Hurting people hurt people.

Similarly, there is a slippery slope of justifying questionable behaviour. I have seen it firsthand; when a person has perceived that something bad has happened to them, they will then do something unethical, (lie/steal/slander) to make up for it, because ‘someone did something bad to me, so I can behave like this’.

When you think about retribution and justice there a probable a few phrases that come to mind, like

“An eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth”

Which for the longest time I considered to be barbarian, but I discovered that this Old Testament Law came at a time in history when it was common place for acts of violence to escalate so quickly that an innocuous knock of a tooth could turn into all out war and hatred. (Some would consider that we still live in that time).

Martin Luther King Jnr. was talking about this exact issue when he said “Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence…we must meet the forces of hate with the power of love”.

Jesus gave an example of what love looks like in this situation, and took the eye for an eye concept further:

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get  us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”

Generosity is outrageous. It humbles the ego, looks to the other person, sees their pain and willingly submits to physical, emotional and social brutality. At the same time it takes all the power away from the instigator. Non-violence is the most powerful, subversive act.

Generosity, by looking past someone’s actions to their intentions and motivations, will not fix all our immediate problems, it just removes the future ones. The ones that we create for ourselves.

You’ve Been Owned.

There is something about completely owning someone. To be the victor in a challenge or sporting event feels great and is an amazing boost to the ego. You can look down your nose at those you have overcome and know that you are better than them. You are the winner and they are the loser.

Winner…

Loser…

That’s what it is to ‘own’ someone. It’s young person lingo to describe you as a winner and someone else a loser. They are trampled underfoot and you are the victor dancing on their grave.

I guess it’s not too much of an issue in the context of a game, but I am seeing the culture of ‘owning’ someone become common place in political engagement and social media. The goal no longer appears to be to create dialogue, uncover each opinion and seek to change someone’s mind. Instead the goal looks like finding the most cutting one liner that is both clever and true – a zinger perhaps, one that is so amazing that it removes the need for any further conversation. The person delivering the line then walks away in full knowledge that the other side was ‘owned’ whilst onlookers can only think ‘Well, there’s nothing more to be said. I am well and truly convinced by that pithy statement ausguy_645 said’.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that’s not how communication works. What we end up seeing instead is dozens of people jump in with their one liner in an attempt to cut down someone else with a different opinion. They all speak at the same time and use whatever language necessary to be heard over the others and it does not have the desired impact of silencing anyone. It only creates more angst and anger, and more one liners. Finally, the only way to be heard is to say the most outrageous, malicious statement as loud and as violently as you can so that the conversation stops, therefore winning the argument and ‘owning’ the other side.

Here’s the thing. It’s lazy. It’s bad communication. There is no generosity there. Anyone can say something cutting and seemingly interesting in 280 characters. Anyone can drop a comment on a post and bring in to question the credibility of someone else. Sure, some people do it better than others, but the real work comes from the second 280 characters, and the 280 characters after that. And the curiosity about someone else’s opinion. And the suggested way forward after that. That’s where the skill lay.

That’s generosity. It comes along side someone and invites them into a thoughtful dialogue, and if the invitation is refused, generosity walks away without malice and frustration.

Now is the time

Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today” – Tim Fargo

Building muscle is hard. Especially if it’s not a muscle that you naturally use every day.

If you want to build the muscles that don’t get a lot of use, you need to intentionally exercise them, put them under stress, so they grow and strengthen. This requires discipline, time, and money. It becomes more of a challenge if you suffer an injury to that muscle because then it’s not just a question of building it, but of repair and healing, then building. It’s painful to rehabilitate but it’s also painful to do nothing. Either way, pain is forced on to you, but you get to chose which pain you experience.

Generosity is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it doesn’t grow. And through challenging financial times, it can feel as if it is a muscle that has suffered an injury. It hurts to use it. But if you want to see the muscle grow over time, and to become a more generous person tomorrow, what you do today is paramount.

Now is the best time to start working your generosity muscle. To give some money away. Start small, make it consistent and keep it going. Sure, it may hurt, but it will heal and repair over time, then it can grow, and you become who you want to be tomorrow.

If you want to be generous when you have much money, start when you have little.

As Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Don’t waste this challenging financial time. Begin acting generously.

Feeling lonely? Try this.

Telephobia is real. It has research to back it up and everything. Essentially it is a fear of making phone calls, or of Teletubbies, perhaps both because they can both be terrifying. But about two thirds of people have experienced fear when answering a phone call, and about 20% say they feel it all the time. Perhaps you have experienced it at some level.

So we text. We avoid. And we put making a call off until later, when we feel like it.

The unfortunate part about that is we are hurting ourselves and others.

As we try to stay connected during this time of isolation and working from home, people are realising that digital conversations are just not cutting it. They are not meeting the need we have to be part of a community.

But making a phone call can. It’s the next best thing to meeting in person because hearing someone’s voice helps us feel connected and gives the sense that we belong, much more so than digital conversations.

Which makes sense because there is something powerful about our voice. It’s not just the words that we say, but the emotion, state of mind and sincerity that are communicated through the tone. In fact, hearing someone’s voice provides a more accurate insight into their emotional state than their body language.

If you are wondering about what you can do to help those around you during this global pandemic, an act of generosity is as easy as making a phone call. Reaching out to someone so they can hear your voice, talk about how they are going, and help them feel part of a community, can do wonders for them. And us. It is the antidote to loneliness. It may cause some anxiety for you to make the call but bringing joy to someone is worth the discomfort.

Generosity Without Money

“Over the years I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me, it also improves my own chances of survival and success”

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut

I am often asked ‘What can I do to do be generous? What practical step can I take?’

Giving money is always great, and I talk a lot about that.

But there are other ways too. Things that we can do which can be incredible gifts to those around us, just by the way we turn up or listen or give space to someone. At the same time, they can have amazing, unintended consequences that give something back to us.

One way to do this is to help someone else succeed.

This is an act of generosity because it costs us something. We choose to give it away to someone else, something that is so precious and finite: our time.

It takes time to train, teach and mentor someone else, to intentionally invest in them and see how you can help them become who they want to become. It can be taxing to bring brutal honesty and constructive criticism, even if the person is willing to hear it. Over time, it is for their benefit as they become a better person.

A better person becomes a better employee, a greater contributor, a better boss and a more involved community member.

So, helping someone else succeed improves their own personal ability, but it also makes their team better, their organisation, city, and world better. Which is also your world, which directly impacts you, making your environment better and ultimately creates a better version of you. Helping others succeed makes you better at whatever you are doing.

I’ll Give More

I’ve seen my fair share of generous acts. The one’s that stand out most are those that are initiated out of trying circumstances. There is something special about witnessing an act of strength out of a place of weakness. That’s what I would consider a generous act to be – one of strength.

I spoke to an Opportunity International Australia supporter recently, just to check in and see how he was going in the current climate, hoping that he and his family were safe and healthy, which they were.

During the conversation, his concern turned to the people that Opportunity works with. Those living in poverty in India and Indonesia and how this global pandemic is affecting them, and what it could look like in the next few months. The truth is, we really haven’t seen anything close to what the impact the Coronavirus will have on developing countries, and these two specifically. My sense is that it will get a great deal worse before we see any light at the end of the tunnel which will have drastic implications on millions of people.

This supporter shared my concerns and agreed with this dire possibility. He said, ‘I like what Opportunity does and how you go about it. I will give again this year, and I will give more than I have before’.

I was blown away. We are still living with a great deal of uncertainty in Australia. No one really knows when things will turn around economically for us, but here was someone who was committing to an act of strength when surrounded by weakness. This type of generosity is so powerful that it impacts everyone it touches. I was inspired, and I know that what he will give will also inspire those living in poverty who will be on the receiving end.