Tools for Tough Times: Encouraging Others

Many people endure setback, disease, and disaster with calm and focus. They divorce amicably.  They relocate and change careers with little disruption. Some go through major disaster and significant duress with strength and calm.

It is not that they are somehow better than the rest of us. It is most often due to their paradigm, the way they view these difficulties.  They have learned a combination of perspectives and skills that allow them to respond more positively it tough times.

In the previous post, I spoke of strategies that help us guard our own hearts, the mind, will and emotions, in difficult times.  These “healthy heart” strategies can be the seedbed for the perspectives and skills we need to thrive in difficulty. 

Yet, how we can encourage the hearts of others, and in that process strengthen and guard our own hearts? Doing so can help us move beyond surviving and into thriving, strengthening not only ourselves but others along the way.

I have been using the example of Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer who kept his team alive and emotionally strong through 634 days stuck in the ice in Antarctica, then as castaways after the loss of their ship.  Learn more about this story in the 30-minute presentation, “Encouraging the Heart,” at www.wellnessMN.org.  Not only did the team thrive, but over a third of them signed up to go with Shackleton again four years later.  How did they do it?

They remained available and accessible to others on the team.  From the top down, Shackleton’s team stayed open and engaged with each other, even in times of great danger and open conflict. With Shackleton the leading example, the crew reached out to engage, encourage, listen to, and assist others on the team.

This is brilliance in action for several reasons.  When we reach out and engage, the creeping loneliness and isolation of difficult times is greatly reduced.  When we encourage each other, the entire team is made stronger. The better the team does, the easier it is to personally do better. When we engage and encourage others, we engage and encourage ourselves.  Prosocial action on our part promotes strength and joy in us.

They frequently engaged others in meaningful conversation around the good and the difficult.  The Shackleton team, following the Boss’s example, were open and honest with each other.  Concerns were listened to, acknowledged, and addressed daily.  People felt heard, and often that hearing was not something “official,” but was the informal yet appropriate outcome of people taking care of those around them.

This is an important step in encouraging the heart of the entire team.  As such it is important that it be done often and done appropriately.  We can encourage others to share their concerns, but all sharing must remain professional and ethical.  Sharing should be balanced between negative concerns and positive celebrations. 

To get this to happen, we must “grease the skids,” inviting others to share what is on their hearts and encouraging them at the heart level as they do so.  This often is best done not in arranged group sharing, but while walking down a hall, leaning against a wall, grabbing a coffee, or walking out to the car.

They encourage hearts by sharing loads.  Shackleton’s team was by design not siloed.  Everyone helped everyone else and pitched in on hard work.  Officers worked along side crewmen.  The scientists scrubbed floors with deckhands.  Every helped with camp chores on the ice.  And all helped rowing the boats as they escaped the ice. Hierarchies and divisions were quickly dissipated by these practices.

How can we do this today?  If someone is doing some “heavy lifting,” the hard or thankless work so often needing to be done, offer to help.  Few things encourage the heart like someone coming along side.  And few things encourage our own hearts like being prosocial, reaching out to help another.

Few things encourage us in tough times as when we promote honest caring and sharing within the team.  We gain as much or more than we give when we do this.  Hearts are guarded within and encouraged among the team members by practices such as these. 

Who knew that when we encourage others, we strengthen ourselves?

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