Encourage, Don't Discourage

This Week-Ender blog originally was published on Jan. 27, 2012.

Be positive, not negative.

Why is it that some people find fault much more easily than finding good things worthy of positive recognition?

I’m sure practitioners in the Parks and Rec business, being in public service, are at the receiving end of this on a daily basis.

This could include any aspect of the business, from taking care of sports fields to planning special events.

It seems that no matter how much attention to detail is put into the job, someone always has to find that one little item--the one dropped detail or overlooked action--and judge the entire effort--or even the whole department--on it.

It can get pretty discouraging.

I surmise that this fault-finding tendency is a natural off-shoot of our competitive, “zero-defect” world.

From infancy, we are conditioned to believe that perfection is the Holy Grail. And the bar for perfection seems to constantly get elevated.

These days, if a baby isn’t reading, talking and planning a future by 18 months, parents feel like they should get professional help. All right, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the point is we’re all pushed to do more, sooner, better, quicker.

I suppose technology has an impact on this tendency as well. We have become so attuned to instant and complete gratification that waiting on a less-perfect result seems so yesterday.

But that attitude seems self-defeating and ignorant of the inherent imperfections of the human condition. None of us is perfect; we all make mistakes.

Even type A perfectionists make mistakes…maybe less often than the rest of us, but still, they’re not perfect.

There are times when finding fault is appropriate.

Supervisors are paid to find fault. They oversee work to ensure that subordinates are doing things correctly. But even then, there are good ways of finding fault and there are bad ways.

Maybe what I am opining here is not so much that we find fault, but how we find fault.

You can use a hammer or you can use a feather; you can either bash your point home, or you can feather it home.

Either way, the point can be made; it’s just that one way will leave the recipient with a crushed skull and/or headache, and the other won’t.

Maybe what happens sometimes is that we provide people with discouragement, when actually what they need is encouragement.

There’s a fine line between those two concepts, and it’s an easy line to cross.

I find myself making this mistake a lot. My background, training and past experience has created in me a tendency to be a problem-solver. When my better half talks about this issue or that, I’ll automatically start a mental checklist of what will need to be done to fix it.

What happens, though, is that when I’m making my mental checklist, I’m not listening. I am focused internally, rather than externally.

So I may (usually do) miss the real purpose of my role in the conversation, which is just to be a sounding board, a friendly ear to articulate some feeling or idea and see how it plays in the real world.

I’m learning, albeit slowly, why it is said we have two ears and two eyes but only one mouth--so that we will listen and watch twice as much as we talk.

Unfortunately, this tendency to criticize rather than encourage has extended to public life as well.

Look at the current presidential campaign trail. Finding things wrong with other candidates has risen to the level of an art form with campaign managers.

Even if someone tries to run a clean campaign and focus on the issues of the Republic, they get sucked into the vortex of negativity.

Teddy Roosevelt talked about this in a speech made in 1910 in Paris when talking about “Citizenship in a Republic.”

I have referred back to this quote on many occasions over my lifetime to remind myself that, as an imperfect human, I will try and fail many times, but the worst failure would be to give up.

Roosevelt said:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

So today, on this Friday, January 27, 2012, as you go through your day interacting with other imperfect people, try giving encouragement, not discouragement.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, who also served until recently in municipal parks and recreation, lives in Peachtree City, Ga., and can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.