Part of the reason for writing this blog is to be encouraging to anyone out there who reads it. Also to encourage myself to focus on positive, uplifting things during some of my online time. I decided that if I was going to spend (waste?) more time online I might as well be doing something that was of benefit to me and maybe others as well. I think encouraging people is really important – whether it’s by ‘liking’ their facebook status (has there ever been an easier method of affirmation?) or by giving a compliment or supportive look.
There have been instances in the past where I’ve gone further out of my way to encourage someone, but I’ve always found myself to be pleased by the response. I had been listening to a sermon tape by Stephen Gaukroger on a passage from Isaiah several years after the Spring Harvest event where it had been recorded. I think I’d bought it as part of a bargain lot but I had actually heard the original preach and knew I’d found it helpful. While re-listening several years later I was blown away by some particular insight and exhortation that God knows my name and how we are written on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49).
I think this was before the days where everyone had email so I think I actually put pen to paper to write to Stephen and tell him how helpful his sermon had been to me, even after all that time. I thought he would be pleased to hear that even years later his preparation and boldness in sharing from God’s word was still bearing fruit. Indeed he was, and I received a lovely letter back, thanking me for getting in touch and recognising my ‘ministry of encouragement’. Another time I had read an article by an academic who had shared her struggles at getting the issue of abuse within sport taken seriously and I felt moved to drop her an email. It wasn’t that hard to find a contact address for her and again, I felt glad that I had made the effort. I think I’d be delighted to hear that someone was reading my work – you really don’t know who might see things once you put them out there, and to get in touch to say something was helpful is a small step to give someone a boost in their work.
In the same way as words of encouragement can last, and words of wisdom also last; words of criticism also endure, perhaps the longest of all. While I’d love to think I have a ministry of encouragement, I know that by nature I can be quite critical and have hurt people or put people down by saying things that I’d never considered might last that long. I’ve been amazed at how long some of my friends remember things I’ve said when I have long forgotten them. Of course, I’d like to think it’s the words of wisdom that last but in my own experience I often recall critical words more easily. Apparently I once made a thing of how wooden spoons are redundant and pointless. I don’t recall that at all. I’m not a big user of wooden spoons but I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand now. My university friend Gareth Richards is now a stand-up comedian and got a ‘best joke’ laugh out of how great wooden spoons are – “you can cook with them or if you can’t be bothered you just write a number on one, go into a pub and say ‘where’s my dinner?’”.
My mock Viva was another case where I was left painfully aware of all the criticism but without taking in much positive feedback. My mock Viva examiner’s offhand comment that ‘I don’t think chapters nine and ten will do’ will stay with me for a long time. While I did use a lot of the constructive criticism to make changes to my thesis before submitting it, I also fed back to my supervisor that a little more positive feedback would have been greatly appreciated. This led to an interesting conversation with him about the nature of feedback and how it often looks similar, whatever standard of work you are critiquing. You make an effort to give feedback of how the good students can improve as well as finding something positive to say in even the poorest quality assignments. I have the joys of marking essays to come later in the year and I shall need to find a balance between recognising good quality work and inspiring further improvement as well as helpful, constructive feedback when assignments are of a lower standard.
Perhaps the nicest compliment I have ever received was from a drama lecturer during my brief stint at University College Chester. I was talking over my decision to leave the course to transfer to a single honours course elsewhere and he was summarising my good progress so far. Although I hadn’t taken the exam, he said that would have been no problem for me because I “write like a dream”. Wow. There’s something to encourage me and to continue to aspire towards. I only hope my current examiners think the same.
By the way, any feedback on the blog is also very welcome. My sister did say about blogging that you never get as much response as you would like. It’s great to see that some people are reading although hard to guess what people think unless they say something. There’s even a ‘like’ button somewhere…