By Jeremy Suisted
One wintry day in the heart of procrastinating through my thesis, I stumbled upon a web-version of the computer game Candy Crush and within seconds I was hooked into a world of candy-matching heaven, creating stripes, bombs and delicious combos.
I admitted my addiction to a friend, who laughed, "It's the words. You create a combo and the game compliments you. 'Groovy', 'Amazing' or 'Divine!' They're said with such passion, you start believing them."
He was right. The bright colours, flashing effects and playful carnival soundtrack all make an atmosphere of fun. But the words that appear when you achieve success are the true addiction, as through positive feedback you feel like you are accomplishing tasks of true significance.
My friend Matt Browning recently described his experiences working with at-risk youth, and noted that he was "...becoming more and more convinced that encouragement is the currency of life that most people have become bankrupt from."
In a world bankrupt of encouragement, cheap sugary alternatives like Candy Crush or the augmented reality game Pokémon Go can be a compelling alternative – an easy way to receive the rush of recognition and praise.
However, like all imposters, this is only a temporary fix and leaves you desiring more and more.
Something More Sustaining
Around the same time as Matt's article came out, I received a message from a friend that had words of thoughtful, direct encouragement and brave honesty. Their words were specific and spoke to the heart, naming goodness that they had seen in me, and encouraging me in my direction.
These words were so nourishing and such a delight. If Candy Crush was a dose of sugary imitation, these were a sustaining feast.
I was reminded of research by Theresa Amabile, an expert in creativity from Harvard University. In her extensive survey of the most creative organisations, she concludes that the key to a creative workforce is leaders recognising the meaningful progress their employees are making.
Simply put, when people's work is noticed and encouraged, they are motivated to carry on.
Paul the Apostle, one of the early church leaders, knew this truth and urged others to practice it. When writing to a church in Ephesus, he said,
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
Yet it amazes me how my natural desire is to use words that tear down.
Each word requires the same amount of energy. Words of encouragement and words of negativity both require the same breath, the same tightening of the vocal cords and the same dance of tongue and teeth. It takes no more time or effort to encourage—yet my default position seems to be the opposite.
Henri Nouwen reminds us,
"How much longer will I live? .... Only one thing seems clear to me. Every day should be well-lived. ... Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing?... I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come."
In light of this, the sugary encouragement of Candy Crush dissolves away, yet serves as a reminder to use words to encourage others on their progress in life, as they struggle and succeed, persevere and pursue.?
Jeremy writes weekly on life, faith and creativity at www.jeremysuisted.com