It hasn't been easy trying to turn things around, but these days there are a lot more board games, library books and conversations. Even 'family prayer night' is gaining momentum. We still watch TV when we decide there's something worth watching- it's just no longer the default option. Instead, seeing my family grow closer together has been far more rewarding. Strangely enough though, it's the unlikely vehicle of reality TV that has deepened my thinking about one of the topics I'm most passionate about - the art of giving encouragement.
My nine year old daughter is entranced by the talent competition shows, where ordinary people get up on stage to perform in front of a panel of celebrity judges and a studio audience. 'Australia's Got Talent' has just started another season on the air. We watched the initial auditions together and whilst I could leave all the theatrics behind, I must admit I love being amazed by the raw talent of wannabe professionals. There is such hope, such praise, such potential for greatness and such personal and sometimes parental pride.
I love watching the performer's faces shine as they soak in the applause, ovations and judges' glowing praise. Phrases float around like 'you're special,' 'you're a superstar' and 'you don't know how good you really are.' I disagree that being called a 'freak' is a compliment, although these days it is used as such 'in the nicest possible way.' The important thing is, when value has been attributed to certain people (in this case the judges), the power they possess to impact lives is immense.
Praise is one thing but there are some schools of thought that believe it can be anything from demotivating to destructive. In my opinion, honest and meaningful praise has it's place but gentle encouragement is far more empowering. In these reality TV shows, on the occasions when contestants have been good but not good enough to progress to the next round, simply being told to 'keep working at it, we'll be seeing more from you in the future' offers hope.
It shows them that someone who knows a thing or two has faith in their abilities. It's not a guarantee of success but, if accepted, it's a challenge to be met that will no doubt involve plenty of effort and ups and downs along the way.
I learned to appreciate the value of the encouraging word on my journey as an elite athlete. It didn't need to be a spoken word - sometimes it was just knowing someone I cared about made the effort to watch me race. On countless occasions when the going was tough and my body just wanted me to slow down, I was my own best motivator. 'You can do this, you're doing really well, hang in there for a bit longer...' Those are the times when I excelled.
On the flip side, I love watching the stars, but I can't help thinking about those people who genuinely try their best and are, to say the least, discouraged. Watching the reactions of performers in tears, shattered by the judges' comments on national television is heartbreaking. Simply having a go in life is underrated.
It's far too easy for people who sit on the sidelines to criticise those who are actually 'in the arena.' With suicide and depression all too common among the youth, mocking those who fail is not worth any amount of ratings. Sarcasm and humour through ridicule are not funny. We may laugh but it's not the kind of laugh that makes you smile on the inside.
My daughter confirmed for me what I have long believed to be unjust. After one singer was met with hysterical laughter and 'a big no' to getting through to the next round, she said to me, 'wouldn't you feel really bad if you tried your hardest and then you got told in front of everyone on TV that you were hopeless?' It makes you not want to try at all.
I'm constantly amazed by the power of encouragement and perhaps more accurately, the power of the word. It doesn't matter how old we are or how proficient we are at something, at some level we all strive to please the people who matter to us. Encouragement and praise go hand and hand but they inspire us differently. The words we hear from others and the words we tell ourselves have the power to make all the difference.
We all have the ability to encourage others. Shouting commands at someone a la 'bootcamp' style may work for some but I don't consider that to have lasting effectiveness. When we take the time to know and be interested in someone, guiding them towards their potential with respect and humility is a privilege. From experience I know that if someone else believes in us, it's a lot easier for us to believe in ourselves.