To inspire improvement, offer encouragement, not judgment
When we see others doing something wrong, we often feel impelled to judge and correct them. This impulse becomes even stronger if we happen to be in a position of authority, whereby we are responsible for guiding them.
However, our responsibility is not just to tell others that they need to improve; it is also to provide them the confidence that they can improve. If instead of encouragement, we offer judgment, they may become disheartened or defensive. When disheartened, they give up trying to improve; when defensive, they use their energy to justify their actions, not to rectify them. Either way, our purpose of getting them to improve is defeated.
How to guide truthfully and encouragingly is demonstrated by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita (06.35-36). In the Gita’s sixth chapter, he outlines the process of yoga for controlling the mind by cultivating equanimity. Arjuna protests that becoming equipoised is impractical because the mind is formidable – it is like a raging wind.
Krishna could have responded by labelling Arjuna as insincere or lazy; after all, nothing worthwhile is achieved easily. And Krishna is God, the universal mentor, as well as Arjuna’s chosen mentor – Arjuna has voluntarily submitted to him as a disciple (02.07). Despite all this, Krishna doesn’t label his student. Instead, he empathically acknowledges that controlling the mind is undoubtedly difficult (06.35). Then, he assures that it can be controlled by diligently following the appropriate process (06.36). Thus, he doesn’t deny the need to control the mind, but he does address the concern that the goal seems dishearteningly unattainable.
Following Krishna’s example, we too can be empathic and encouraging. While guiding others, we can strive to ensure they feel not judged and condemned, but understood and encouraged. If we can thus impart not just knowledge but also encouragement, we can inspire improvement.
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