Telling People They’re Good

Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post today over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books–and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, I ran a writing challenge, and one of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time–rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invectives back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. You’re good at writing blog posts, Becky. To name just one thing. 🙂


  2. You have this phenomenal ability to tantalize me, you know that? I have this feeling you absolutely knew I’d write and say, “but Becky, what about “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me . . . ?”

    It’s not the same as telling people they are good at something they’re not, granted, but there is something to be said for straining and craning to be absolutely all you can be, in Christ–which is what you’re doing, by the way!


  3. HA! Thanks, Sally. I wasn’t actually looking for props, but I appreciate you making that application.

    Peggy, I think the “I can do all things” verse explains why Christians have so easily bought into what the world says. Their take, of course, differs because they say the power is within whereas Christians say, the power is without (used in the archaic sense meaning outside), in Christ.

    But we too often overlook the context of that verse. In fact I wrote a post just a couple weeks ago about this very thing–“Seasons of Contentment.” Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” in regard to being content whether he had much or little.

    I think it’s clear he wasn’t saying, I can become Caesar through Him who strengthens me. But that’s the way many Christians today interpret the verse–I can become a better friend, an A student, the next President of the United States, through Him who strengthens me.

    It misses the very point Paul was making. We don’t have to have transformed circumstances in order to be content. We can be content in abject poverty or in Fortune 500 riches–because of Him who strengthens us in both circumstances.

    As to being all we can be in Christ, I think Scripture does teach this, just not in Phil. 4:13. In Ephesians, for example, Paul says, “With good will, render service as to the Lord rather than to man.” In Colossians 3 he says to slaves, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” Earlier he said to all Christians, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” These and other verses throughout Scripture make it clear that we are not to be half-hearted or lazy or inept in our work because we represent Christ.

    And thank you for your kind affirmation, too, Peggy. I’ve said before, it’s you who comment that make me think and keep me on my toes.


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