The Power of Encouragement and Why People Tend to Use Criticism

My mother’s house was always immaculate. She made sure that every public space was spotless. There were almost no weeds in her yard. Her parties were a show of excellence in food preparation. It was not an easy house to live in because messes were largely not permitted. In order to keep her standard so that it could be impressive to visitors she was always on the look out for the things out of place. If things were not immediately put away or if there were specks of dirt on the floor, you heard from her in no uncertain terms. It was same in terms of her children’s public behavior and appearance. She never scanned for the positive. She was looking for the think out of place so that people could regard her positively. She believed in the importance of appearances. Even when you would work really hard to pull out all of the weeds in the garden, she could find the ones you missed and comment on it.

There was however a place in her home that had the quality of dishevelment. That was the place where she did her creative work. In our early days she had a sewing business in our home with her cousin where she created amazing gowns for women. The room was never that organized or clean. In later years it was the room she set aside for painting. Both rooms were, in a sense, out of harm’s way. They were not privy to the public. I remember entering the room a few years before she passed and thinking to myself that the rest of the house was for show so that she could get recognition on how beautiful her home was, but where she was actually herself, relaxed, and positive was in her painting room. It had a basic organizational structure, but it was relaxed about being spotless.


I guess I am a slow learner because it was when I was half way into my sixties that I recognized this about her. She was fabulously creative, but also stuck in her public side that needed to be perfect in appearance. My childhood mostly felt the sting of the dark side, the constant criticism, the endless obsession on what was wrong. I was so anxious to leave home at 18 that I made the grave mistake of going into a military academy that was even more obsessed than my mother about appearances. When I started to complain about their methodology, she defended them fully which drove a wedge between her and me that was never fully healed. The Air Force Academy was like my mother on steroids. They were so obsessed about the smallest piece of dust that when they found one in your room on inspection day, it was as if you assassinated the president.

Needless to say that after escaping my mother’s home and the Air Force, I was open to a different approach to life. I was not against cleanliness or self-discipline. Criticism and nit picking just didn’t work with me. Even in the psychology classes at the Academy they taught that finding the positive in others was way more effective that criticism, but, as is present in most countries, criticism or pointing the finger of blame does not die easily. It is still hanging on because it is so much easier and here is why.

The research in working with children and in marriages indicates that when you criticize or make negative corrections, it takes five positive comments for a person to feel encouraged. In other words criticism is so powerful in its negative effect on people that it takes a huge effort to get back to feeling encouraged and motivated to go forward. What seems to happen is that criticism has an immediate effect on getting a person to do what is asked, but it leaves them tense, remembering the negatives, and afraid to be adventurous and curious. The Baha’i Writings indicate that criticism is what leads to people to apathy and estrangement.

My mother became a very prolific painter in her life, but she had an extremely difficult time showing her work to anyone. She too was terrified of criticism, of being regarded poorly. Had she been encouraged in her early years she probably would have become a famous designer or well known artist. She was learning Chinese brush painting after she was 85. I suppose that a lot of us have the two opposing energies in us, one that is wildly adventurous and creative, and another that is looking for every little thing that is wrong with whatever we do. The urge to self criticize and to criticize others is a huge negative force in human beings, but it is very destructive.

Encouragement is based upon the ability to find positives qualities in others and then acknowledge them. When you see orderliness, patience, compassion, or courage, among thousands of other positive qualities in others, and then acknowledge the qualities, it strikes a positive chord, a vibration, in the other person’s soul that gives those qualities something like an electric jolt so that they can operate more fully in the world. It is absolutely remarkable in its power. Criticism does the exact opposite. It suppresses the energy of the qualities. They go into hiding.

People that get into leadership by way of criticizing others often appear like they have strength and answers because they are so good at making others look so poorly. What they are actually very effective at doing is stopping progress because they create a culture of hiding. It takes far less energy to get someone to hide away than to get their positive qualities out there and functioning. When a person needs accompaniment to have a new quality, like a woman who has been in an abusive relationship, they need constant reminders, constant calling out of the name of the energy that they need. If the need is for inner strength, it will not stick by saying it one time. It takes constant repetition of the remembrance of the energy and constant working through the presenting obstacles. Then gradually the energy that was just in a potential form, becomes manifest in their lives.

Often a person comes to change work with zero energy in a certain ability and little faith that it can become a part of who they are. They may even describe themselves as a “not”. I am not the type of person who can talk freely in public with others. I am not the type of person who can be calm and inward. Encouragement is like a doorway to a new identity. Even if you have no positive energy emanating from a certain quality like generosity or friendliness, believing that you have it in potential and then acknowledging the potential is a huge charge to the spirit and the first doorway to applying it in real life.

If you want to have a big effect on people’s lives in a short period of time, there are a few things you can do immediately.

  1. Walk in your neighborhood and spend time acknowledging the positive qualities in things around you like when you see a beautiful flower or the colors of the leaves.
  2. Make an effort to find something positive in everyone you meet.
  3. Acknowledge the positive qualities in 5 people each day.
  4. Completely ignore the negative in others and refrain from making any negative comments to others for a certain time period each day. (e.g. morning to noon, or noon to sunset) . This is a hard one to apply if you are a serial criticizer. You will have to do it gradually.

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