WomenEd Blogs

The courage in encourage


by Emma Turner @Emma_Turner75

As people and teachers, we all need encouragement. We need encouragement to rise out of comfy beds, to start our days, to take those first steps or to take on new challenges. We need encouragement to keep on going when things aren’t progressing as smoothly as we’d like or might have anticipated and we need encouragement to believe in ourselves and our decisions.

Who or what gives us this encouragement will depend on our individual circumstances; we all draw strength from different sources – some from family, and friends, some from faith, some from colleagues, coaches and mentors and sometimes from a burning sense of righteous indignation. Sometimes the encouragement may well come from strangers. From hearing a speech during CPD or overhearing a conversation in a public place or from the written words of others whom we may never meet. But we all need a voice to keep us moving forward, to hold close when things are difficult and to spur us on to become more than we thought might have been possible.

But something we do not discuss or reflect on is the courage it takes to encourage. Hidden within the word “encouragement” is courage itself. To give or instil courage in others requires courage from oneself. When we encourage someone else, we need to establish connection. Our words will fall on deaf ears and our actions go unnoticed and our words unheeded if there is no human connection. And this is why encouragement takes courage. To connect with someone else on a level deep enough to influence their behaviour, attitudes or belief in themselves often requires a degree of shared vulnerability. To present an image of perfection will encourage nobody – if anything it will deter people from believing themselves capable as they see that perfection as ultimately unobtainable and only for the few.

And that is why establishing the connection to encourage development requires a vulnerability that requires real courage.

When I reflect on the inspirational speakers or colleagues who have encouraged me during my career or those people I know in my home life who have inspired and encouraged me, it is always from the standpoint of a narrative of vulnerability or overcoming adversity. There are not many inspirational stories which appeal and begin, “I was born into success and privilege, led a charmed existence with no hardship, had my success facilitated by others and achieved it all without a struggle or hard work.” That narrative is unlikely to encourage anyone to believe that things are possible. An alternative narrative where real life and all its bumps, twists, turns, inequalities, unfairness and prejudices has not dampened or dimmed the success of the storyteller is the one much more likely to be seen as one which can be emulated or which may resonate and ultimately lead to encouragement.

But that one, that raw and real story of a lived experience is not just a story; it is someone’s life and to them is spun gold and glass and spider webs; it is fragile and real and precious.

They share their story because they want to encourage; to show that things are possible and that there is a different way and a different narrative and that is the courage in encouragement. To bare your soul and to present your lived experience as a story is the worry that it may just be treated as so – as a story rather than as a life. It may be that whilst you share it you can see people doodling or that their attention has wandered or even worse that you share your spun gold and then it is discarded as if flotsam and jetsam of a day’s jumble of words and stories, just left to drift gently to the shore where it will float, uncollected and never to arrive at its intended destination or fulfil its intended brief.

But there are other ways these stories are caught and kept – these pearls of wisdom which we can allow to either wash over us or catch to keep as our own treasure. Because sometimes this shared vulnerability will talk to someone; it will resonate with them and they will put their hands out and share with you their spun gold and spider web story.

They will hold your story with theirs and they will tell you that together your story and their story have fixed the cracked glass and polished the spun gold. They will tell you that you have not thrown your story over the side to be flotsam and jetsam but that they found it before it hit the shore and will carry it with them as they take their next steps.

And it is this which keeps us having the courage to encourage. To share our stories and to take that risk that they may be driftwood or they may be treasure and we never know when they will be treated as such. But I know from my own experience of having my story land as a treasure in someone’s hand and the real and positive difference it has made to them that will keep giving me the courage to encourage and I will try and forget the flotsam and jetsam feelings of the times when my spun gold has been discarded, passed over or washed away.

To anyone thinking about sharing a story I would always say to find the courage to encourage; without stories and lived experiences we will not be able to connect in that human way which so many of us need in order to believe different is possible. Have courage in your story and find courage in the stories of others but always recognise too that when someone shares with you their spun gold, spider webs and glass – hold them gently and keep them safe; they are not a story, they are a life.

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Wednesday, 29 June 2022

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