Bringing the light of encouragement
Years ago there was a group of young men at a Midwestern university, who seemed to have amazing, creative talent. They were would-be poets, novelists and essayists. They were extraordinary in their ability to put the English language to its best use. These promising young men met regularly to read and critique each other’s work. And critique it they did!
These men were merciless with each other. They dissected the smallest literary expression into a hundred pieces. They were heartless, tough, and even mean in their criticism, but they thought they were bringing out each other’s best work. Their sessions became such arenas of literary criticism that the members of this exclusive group nicknamed themselves “The Stranglers.”
Not to be outdone, the university’s women of literary talent were determined to start a support group of their own, one comparable to “The Stranglers”. They called themselves “The Wranglers.” They, too, read their works to one another, but there was one significant difference, The criticism of “The Wranglers” was much softer, more positive, more encouraging. In fact sometimes there was no criticism at all. Every effort, even the most feeble attempt, was searched for something to be praised and encouraged.
Twenty years later, the univesity’s alumni office was doing a study on the careers of its alumni, when it was noticed that there was a great difference in the literary accomplishment of “The Stranglers” as opposed to “The Wranglers”. Of all the bright and talented young men in “The Stranglers,” not one had made a significant literary accomplishment of any kind. From “The Wranglers,” on the other hand, had come six successful writers, some attaining national reputation.
What was the difference? Talent level? Probably the same. Level of education? Not much difference. But while “The Stranglers” strangled, “The Wranglers” were determined to give each other a boost, highlighting the best—not the worst.
In a business report I recently read something similar. There was an executive who did an amazing job of turning a run-down office into an outstanding success. Her secret was to request each department head to submit a weekly report each Monday morning of all the good things that had happened in their departments during the previous week. This was a simple, but powerful, way to turn a failed organization into a dynamic success.
In today’s gospel Jesus describes his followers as those who are meant to bring light into the world. When you think about it, light is useful for all kinds of things. At night, it can help you not to trip over things and get hurt. Light can keep you from getting lost. Light can keep you from becoming frightened when you hear strange sounds in the night.
But the stories I shared demonstrate an incredibly powerful way to bring light—the light of encouragement and positive reinforcement—to people of any age. Life is full of all kinds of disappointments, struggles and challenges. And sometimes individuals can be labeled as “failures” or “losers”—either by themselves or by someone else. When I look back on teachers or other influential people in my life, the ones I remember as making the most difference were those who helped me to blossom, to overcome fears and doubts, to trust that I could take steps into the unknown with confidence. This is true for people of all ages, from children trying to learn a new skill, to couples struggling in relationships, to those hoping to find a better job or a better future, to those of advanced years who can’t do what they used to, whose memory is failing, and whose world is much smaller than it used to be.
We are the light of the world, Jesus says. A lot of people get pretty beat up by life, experience huge disappointments, and begin to see themselves as failures. Think about how Jesus responded to those feeling down, inadequate, harshly judged, or left out. He brought the light of God to them, and thereby he re-created their world. In a world awash in division and criticism, I think we can do the same by offering encouragement rather than criticism, a good word rather than complaint, a little hope rather than yet another reason to despair.