‘Tis the season of gifts and giving. The warmth and good cheer of the Holiday Season is often the reminder we need of how giving and helping others can really help us too. George Burton Adams, an early 20th century American educator and historian once observed, “Note how good you feel after you have encouraged someone else. No other argument is necessary to suggest that we never miss the opportunity to give encouragement.”
When our daughter Vanessa was 20 years old, I came home one day to find her beaming and proudly displaying a new necklace she was just given as a thank-you gift. It seems I’d just missed her visitor, Jeremy, who had dropped by to express his appreciation for Vanessa’s “tough friendship” when the two of them were in a pre-college preparatory course a year earlier. Jeremy was struggling with drug and alcohol problems. Throughout the school year, Vanessa altered between scolding him and reinforcing just what potential she believed he had. She told him about Alcoholics Anonymous and encouraged him to attend. When he told her he was planning to move to Western Canada to get away from the negative influence of his family and friends, she strongly encouraged him to follow his heart.
Now he was back in Kitchener-Waterloo visiting family and friends. He went out of his way to thank Vanessa for setting him on the path to recovery and life renewal. He had been steadily attending AA meetings and was pulling his life together. Jeremy was so inspired by the changes in his life that he planned to become an addictions counselor in Vancouver. This experience gave Vanessa and me a chance to talk about and reflect on the power of encouraging, supporting, and helping others. Leaders build others up and look for ways to challenge or coach them out of the swamp and onto their leadership stairway.
As I wrote Vanessa’s story for Growing @ the Speed of Change I came across this African fable on the power of giving which I also included in the book:
An African girl presented a Christmas gift to her teacher. When the teacher unwrapped the gift, she found a beautiful sea shell. Asked where the child could have found it, she told her teacher those unique shells come only from a special far-away beach. The teacher was very touched and remarked, “You shouldn’t have gone so far for a gift for me.” The girl looked at her, smiled and replied, “The long walk is part of the gift.”