One of life’s magnificent blessings is our ability to help each other grow in courage. We can give courage, and we can receive it. We can give courage to ourselves by giving it to others. The more we give courage to others, the more able we are to receive it for ourselves. Fear works similarly. The more we try to instill fear in others, the more we wind up instilling in ourselves.
The greatest source of our ability to give and receive courage is our desire to do it. Not everyone wants courage. Some don’t want the burden of it – the responsibility. They don’t have the desire to give it or receive it. They avoid situations that require it. And so they live in the emptiness of a life without it. Courage has a price. So does the lack of it. We each have to decide which price we want to pay.
This book is not about avoiding courage. It’s about giving and receiving it. From this point on, we won’t consider the option of avoiding it. Besides, we’re already built for courage. We’re built to give it and receive it. Desiring to give and receive courage comes from cherishing it instead of forfeiting it, and helping others to do the same.
Giving courage is different than giving money. If you have $10 and give $5 to someone else, you have $5 left. The other $5 used to belong to you, but now it doesn’t anymore. Giving courage is different. When you give courage, you’re not giving up your own courage so that someone else can have it. You are helping them to discover the courage that already belongs to them. Everyone’s courage is unique, just as everyone’s body, mind and spirit are unique.
This brings us to encouragement. When you encourage someone in the truest sense – the literal sense – you are giving them courage. When you discourage them, you are taking their courage away. Encouraging someone is not just a pat on the back, or a compliment, or even a congratulation. Those are fine things to give, but they are not encouragement. Encouragement is more personal, more individual, more meaningful, more valuable. When you encourage someone, you partner with them to explore their own courage more deeply in order to draw it out more fully.
While money is something you give from your wallet, encouragement is something you give from your heart. But the courage in your own heart doesn’t shrink when you give from it, it grows along with theirs.
This book is about how to give courage to yourself as well as to others. Most of what we need in order to do both is already built into us. For example, we are already wired in a way that makes us stronger when we are focused on the well-being of others above our own, and weaker when we are focused on our own well-being above the well-being of others. All you have to do to prove that is to think back on the last time you took action for the well-being of others, and compare it with the last time you took action for your own well-being. Which situation made you feel stronger? That is an example of how you are already wired to give courage to others and to yourself at the same time.
Another way we are wired for encouragement is that if we have something about us that looks or feels like a weakness, we probably have a corresponding virtue that we can draw upon to conquer that weakness. We will see how this works in the next chapter.
One of the goals of this book is to make encouragement easy because it’s natural – we’re already built for it. The only thing that stands in the way is selfishness, which is rooted in fear, which steals away the joy and fulfillment of giving and receiving courage.
This book is short, because its purpose is to make courage easy to find and to access – easy to give and to receive. There is much to say about encouragement that I have not said in this book, and I was very intentional about what to include and what to leave out. The primary focus of my professional life since 1972 has been encouragement. If I only had two hours to talk about encouragement, this book is what I would say.
Courage is an amazing gift to offer. Fewer gifts are more valuable. It can be life changing. Imagine giving someone the courage to:
- Believe in themselves more.
- Believe in their purpose more.
- Escape the prison of their comfort zone.
- Become more self-sufficient.
- Tell the truth that needs to be told when it needs to be told.
- Accept responsibility for mistakes.
- Embrace change.
- Take on a challenge that scares them.
- Do what it takes to improve enough to clear the hurdles that are holding them back.
- Get back up after they’ve been knocked down.
When you give any of those gifts to someone else, you give them something they can treasure for as long as they live. You also accomplish something that you can treasure for as long as you live. That is the miracle of encouragement!
When your heart’s desire is to give courage, you become intentional about it. You seek out opportunities to give it. Whatever situation you are in, you instinctively ask yourself, “Am I giving courage to the people around me, or am I taking it away, or are they breaking even from my influence?”
Courage is also an amazing gift to receive. It can come from a variety of sources. In this book I will focus mainly on the kind of courage we give to each other in one-on-one interactions, or the kind we give to ourselves. While this is not to reduce the value of other sources of courage – most of all, God – this book is designed more to reveal what giving and receiving courage between individuals looks like, and how to make it happen through action and direct communication. From time to time we will also look at encouragement in the context of leadership.
The first person we can receive courage from is ourselves. The way we do it is based on the same mindset and heart and principles that work best for encouraging others, but encouraging ourselves can sometimes seem harder. It begins with the desire to give courage to ourselves, just as we desire to give it to others. Our ability to give courage to ourselves begins with receiving what is already built into us.
Receiving courage begins with the desire for it, and also the belief that we are meant to receive it, whether it is from others or from ourselves. Some people encourage others more easily than they encourage themselves, perhaps because they believe that others need it more or deserve it more. So let’s look more closely at the role of belief in giving and receiving encouragement. The next two chapters will look at belief on two levels – belief in ourselves and belief in our purpose.