This week is Public Employee Appreciation Week, or so my employer has informed me. Basically, it is an appreciation for those who work in public service, such as myself. Today we got free pizza and a Fanta (do you wanna?). I’m not complaining. However, I wonder how much better things would be if we constantly appreciated others? One of the things I am convinced of is that we would start becoming a little numb if this is all we heard. Yet appreciation still happens so little that it would be a long time until we would be numb to appreciation.
While sick a couple of days this week, I watched a couple of documentaries on Netflix. The first was called Bully. It talked about the effects that bullying has on school children, with a specific focus on teenagers in high school. One teenager’s story in particular was so disturbing to the documentary crew that they shared it with the parents of the teen and the school’s administration. When the parents mentioned this to the school, one teacher/principal person tried to misdirect the parents’ concern by talking about her new grand baby. This same school person got on another teenager for not accepting a contrived apology from his bully. This school official went so far to say that not accepting an apology is just as bad as someone getting the snot beat out of them. And this is from a school official that actually cared!
The second documentary was called Heckler*. The main emphasis of the movie was that the words we use have power. It is one thing to criticize, but it is quite another to go on to personal attacks. In the documentary, Jamie Kennedy confronts several of his critics and hecklers to ask why they attack him directly in very nasty ways. It is interesting how they respond. Most of them think it is a joke while Kennedy reads their reviews of his most recent movie. When asked to explain why they added personal attacks, several of them shrug it off and try to make it a joke. Then Kennedy turns the tables on them and makes stupid, juvenile, personal attacks about the critics – the same kind they make about him. The critics become visibly uncomfortable at these moments, because Kennedy’s “criticisms” have absolutely nothing to do with their critiques. (*Disclaimer: this is an R-rated movie with lots of language and some brief nudity. If these things bother you, I would not advise watching.)
Words & Speech
One of the most, if not the most, influential philosopher of the 20th Century was a man named Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein argues in his Philosophical Investigations that we build worlds with our words and that the words find meaning in correlation with each other. Words may just be the most powerful thing that humanity has.
To not have the power to speak a great limitation. I have found this to be true over and over again. Despite being quite a talker, I (now) have lots of friends. Probably the most common reason people like me (based on what people have told me) is that I really listen to what they have to say. If true, this is not something that came to me naturally. To let those who feel they have no voice speak is something that takes major growing pains. I consider it a great honor and privilege to help others have a voice.
Recently, one of my former professors wrote this on his Facebook:
“What if you decided to extend compassion & undeserved kindness to someone, even powerful words of encouragement & affirmation, with the intention that it might profoundly change their life’s trajectory? You can do it. Find someone & intentionally change their world & the world.”
I know how I would feel if someone did this for me. I would feel awesome and want to share the same with others. Fortunately for me, I hear words of encouragement & affirmation fairly often. In my opinion, I do not hear it enough. Because of this, I feel shame. There are many in this world, people I walk by on a daily basis that do not hear any affirmation at all… ever. And yet, here I am, getting to hear it over once a week.
I see a puzzle in the midst of these pieces. There is reason to believe they fit together. Almost every morning I tell my daughter to, “Be awesome! Make the world a better place!” This is a motto I struggle to live daily. No matter what I am doing, I strive to be awesome in what I do. Hopefully whatever I’m doing will naturally make the world a better place, but I do make an effort to be awesome at things that would make the world a better place. Regardless of your identity, it would not be a horrible thing to leave this world better off than when you came into it.
What are some ways we can do this?
Let’s not taking shots at people just because you disagree or dislike their work. YouTube comments are a perfect example of how people resort to name calling and meanness just because they can. There must be something compelling at ripping up others. I want to argue that we can disagree without belittling other people. I’m not a huge fan of country music, but that doesn’t change the quality of their musicianship.
We can follow my professor’s advice and intentionally look for ways to positively impact other people’s lives. On Unapologetic Theology‘s blog, we are reminded of Dallas Willard’s statement in his Divine Conspiracy, “practice routinely purposeful acts of kindness and intelligent acts of beauty.” Let’s do that. That’s kinda awesome!
Finally, when you do have to review and criticize, don’t be a jerk. If possible, criticize constructively. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are reviewing. Imagine what would help you respond well.
What do you think? What are some ways you can be awesome and make the world a better place?