Several years ago I read a research study on a child’s need for affirmation. The study’s intent was to compare the ratio of affirmation with the amount of criticism that a child receives from a parent as a predictor of “healthy” outcomes. The results were mind boggling! According to the study the average child needs affirmation at a ratio of 13:1! That means that for every negative interaction a child has with a parent, they need thirteen encouraging encounters to maintain “balance.” After I read that report I decided to go home and experiment. That night as I was putting my son to bed I began to tell him everything that I appreciated about him, everything that I liked about him, and all the ways in which he was special. And do you know what he said. . . nothing! He didn’t have to say anything because his body language told the whole story. He completely relaxed and then scooted over as close as he could get to me. That night I became a believer in the power of affirmation and “building one another up.”
Don’t have kids? That’s OK, this is still important. The research study was repeated for adults and found that the average adult needs a ratio of eight affirmations for every one criticism. How are you doing? Do the people in your circle of influence receive eight times as much affirmation from you as they do criticism? If you’re like most people, probably not. But why? Why do we focus so heavily on a person’s negative traits rather than their positives? The answer is, sin. As part of our sin nature we are naturally drawn to negativity. Let me prove it.
I want you to imagine that I just finished putting together a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is a photograph of a beautiful mountain landscape. I am so proud of my puzzle that I decide to have it framed and hang it on the wall in my office for everyone to admire. You walk in and see my puzzle. Oh, I forgot to mention that while I was putting the puzzle together my three young children lost a few of the pieces. Even still, I am so proud of my puzzle that it is framed, on my wall, and you walk in and see it. What is the first thing you see? I have told this story and asked that question hundreds of times and the answer is always the same: “the missing pieces.” You see, it is our nature to see that which we deem wrong, bad, or out of place. However, we have to rise above our nature to see that which is right, good, and pleasing.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV). In this simple statement we find great power. I already showed you how affirmation can affect children. Now, what about your spouse? Has your spouse ever said these words to you, “you don’t like anything about me!” What would lead a spouse to this conclusion. The answer is that the ratio of affirmation to criticism has become inverted. Instead of receiving eight affirmations for every one criticism they are likely receiving eight criticisms for each affirmation and then they logically conclude that since all you ever tell them is what’s wrong with them, “you must not like anything about me.”
Still not convinced that this is important? I’ve had the opportunity to share this information with a number of physicians and small business owners and many of them have taken these principles and integrated them into their workplace. Rather than talking with their employees only when problems arise, the employers went out of their way to encourage and affirm their employees for all of the things they were doing well. Several of them came back and shared the results with me. Some of the changes they noted were: employees seemed “happier” while at work, were more cordial to customers and patients, called in sick less frequently, and overall productivity increased.
Again, we hear the words of Paul, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.” Such a short, concise statement, yet one that is overflowing with potential. The Greek word for “build up” is oikodoméō and it comes from the language of construction. It literally means to build a house, tower, etc and coveys the image of stacking one brick on top of another. That is what we must discipline ourselves to do, to become builders of people. We cannot become builders in our own strength; we must rely upon God and we must discipline ourselves to apply His Word. As you seek to apply this truth in your own life I suggest the following passages for study and memorization.
Ephesians 4:29–”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.”
Ecclesiastes 10:12–”The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.”
Romans 14:19–”So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Romans 15:1-6–”We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”