Dr. Jordan Peterson said in an interview once,
“When people share good news about their life, people don’t necessarily respond positively. They don’t get encouragement... and people need so little encouragement, it’s unbelievable.”
To that point, I’d say he’s mostly right. People don’t need much encouragement when they are on the right path and already making progress. I see this in my students all the time. They already feel confident in their growth, and a simple “good work” will carry them throughout the rest of the class. Maybe it is a simple “Bro! You are looking jacked! Hitting all these classes is getting you looking good!” or for the ladies, “Damn girl! You have developed some serious power in those strikes.” For many people, these simple words of affirmation are all the fuel they need to top off their tank and feel great about their training session. Of course this applies to other arenas outside of the gym as well. “You look really nice today” or “That perfume/ cologne smells really good” or “You look happy and healthy” and “I’m proud of you”... you get the point.
However, on the flip side of this coin are the people who don’t have the confidence in themselves. They lack the confidence or willpower to start improving their lives and need more encouragement than normal. More encouragement and help most people would be willing to invest. Not saving or a savior, but help and a friend who will walk through fire with them and kick them in the ass the entire way. I’ve found that, for these types of people, the amount of encouragement needed to get them moving in a positive direction is seemingly monumental. And that can be intimidating to many people.
Most people would see the amount of work that is required to go into these types of individuals and quickly run the other way leaving these lonely souls to their own devices. The kind of people that know they need to take life in a better direction but lack the momentum to get moving. The ones that want a better life but don’t know what to do or where to start. This is generally confused for laziness or unmotivated. And when I’ve chosen to stick to it and help these kinds of people, my friends have come to me said, “Ditch that bitch!” Mainly because they don’t understand my personal motivations for wanting to help others. But for me, it is difficult people like this that intrigue me the most. Probably because I’m a difficult person. They are the ones that I dig in my heels and say, “I will not give up on you, even after you have given up on yourself.” A variation of an axiom that I first heard from my senior drill instructor at Marine Corps boot camp.
The senior drill instructor speech hasn’t changed in decades. It is the hard introduction of the drill instructors to recruits. This one sentence has been of high significance to me ever since I heard Staff Sergeant Gonzalez yell it in his baritone Peruvian accent. It has come up and been studied in every military and law enforcement leadership course I’ve ever taken or taught. I’ve worked hard to embody this axiom in my leadership and coaching style. Some of my friends and family think I’m foolish for investing in others as much as I do. I understand and empathize with their concerns. They are simply looking out for me and my wellbeing. It’s easy to get taken advantage of by difficult people. But I choose to embody this maxim all the same.
It’s not because I’m some amazing battlefield leader like General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, or Lt. General “Chesty” Puller. I’m not some corporate intellect like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. It comes down to my “why”. The “Why” that many people don’t understand. It’s because there have been a series of times throughout my life that I needed someone to refuse to give up on me, even after I had given up on myself. And at the end of those moments, I have come away humbled and filled with gratitude for those that chose to push me and demand better of myself. The ones who didn’t give up on me, because I know in a few of those moments, I wasn’t easy to be around and I should have been given up on. But they didn’t. I know the feeling of coming through something tough. Something that I didn’t believe I had the strength, intelligence or willpower to complete myself. I know the feeling of coming through that, knowing I had a strong person in my corner who refused to give up on me, even when others told them to. And for those people, I am eternally grateful. And now, I must pay it forward.
There are people who have asked me, “Why are you putting so much effort into that person?” I’ve had them say, “Not everyone has the mental capacity or the ability to overcome the things in front of them. Not everyone can overcome things the way you have.” I’ve even heard, “You can’t fix people. Just walk away and let them figure it out on their own.” I understand where they are coming from. I understand and appreciate their love for me and that they don’t want to see me potentially ruin myself in the process of trying to help the unhelpable. I
Don’t get me wrong, though I won’t give up easily, there are people who I have finally walked away from. For me to get to that point though I have to honestly say, I did absolutely everything in my power to try to reach them. To try and help them. To try to be there for them. I can rest easy at night knowing that I did not give up on them, even after they gave up on themselves. That I expended every possible idea, effort and option at least twice before I had to let go. But it was their choice to refuse what I could offer.
“But Chris, isn’t this a direct contradiction to saying you’ll never give up on someone? Isn’t walking away giving up on them?”
Yes and no. Just because I walked away from someone doesn't mean I wouldn’t cautiously invite them back into my life if they sought forgiveness and made objective amends. See my article on forgiveness and grace HERE. I know what you’re thinking though… If you let go of them, then you gave up on them. Even after you said you wouldn’t! You have to remember, we set boundaries for a reason. For our own self preservation and the health of that relationship, whether it be personal, intimate or professional.
The Bible says “Do not cast pearls before swine. For they will trample them under their feet in the mud and then turn around and attack you.” Buddhism says, “If a fool comes into presence with wisdom, he still can’t comprehend it.” and Hinduism says, “Those who are wise should not disturb the peace of those who are ignorant.” What does this mean? It means, I can offer you all the love, support and help in the world, but if you refuse to take it, you will simply trample the pearls that are my love, compassion and kindness into the mud. It means you are wasting my time, patience and generosity. It means that if someone is willfully ignorant and refuses to comprehend what is being so graciously offered to them, it’s time to leave them be until they Make it Pop.
What is Make it Pop? The sound it makes when someone pulls their head out of their ass!
Think of a person drowning in a pool or in the ocean. As they flail in pure terror and panic, the lifeguard approaches to save them. As the lifeguard gets closer, they begin to call out to the fear struck person and announce they are there to help. They will approach cautiously because there is a reasonable likelihood that the drowning victim could panic and cause both the lifeguard and themselves to drown together. The victim must calm themself just enough to accept the directions and help of the lifeguard. The lifeguard may have to get rough with the victim or be very stern in their tone. This is the lifeguard showing some Tough Love to get the victim’s attention and compliance. But at the end, the person drowning must want the help and must be willing to accept the help. They must surrender to an extent and allow the lifeguard to guide them along the route to safety. But if the person drowning continues to fight the lifeguard, then the lifeguard is given no option but to let them drown. Some may say that’s cruel. But a dead lifeguard is of no use to anyone. And it’s not the lifeguard’s job to die. At the same time, just because there is risk in trying to help this person doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Not a lot of people have the courage, endurance or skills to go forward and help others in distress. In my eyes, there is a direct parallel in this example to the people in our lives. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had to learn that lesson the hard way too. I’ve poured way too much of myself into many people, and got hurt in the process. I’ve done this in business. Twice actually. I’ve done it within my personal relationships. I’ve done it with friendships. I did it as a cop on the streets trying so desperately to save an uncooperative victim. As a result, I had to learn when to say enough was enough. My threshold for that just happens to be higher than of many others I know.
From these lessons, I’ve learned the value of forgiveness after immense betrayal. I’ve also learned the value of boundaries as well. There comes a time where the people we want to love and help are simply beyond what we are capable of offering in our current state. It is up to them to want the things we can offer. They have to want it in such a way that they are willing to accept what you offer. At the same time work with the boundaries you set in place. And if they never come back to you, then it’s a problem with them, not you.
So give encouragement often and generously. Give love, kindness and a boost to whoever you can. Do it always without expectation of anything in return. Because people in a good state of mind and a healthy forward momentum of growth need very little encouragement as Dr. Peterson says. Your kind words can be the fuel that gives them that extra little boost that propels them to something greater. But, understand there is a dark flipside to that coin. And that coin is dealing with people who don’t understand just how lost they are. So work as hard as you can to help them. Do not give up on them, even after they have given up on themselves. Give them the love, patience, compassion and grace they deserve. But set those boundaries too. You’re not required to be someone’s doormat. Love freely and Love Hard, but do not cast pearls before swine. It’s okay to step away from someone for a while. It doesn't mean you’re giving up on them. It doesn’t mean you don’t still encourage them. It just means they may not be ready right now. And that’s okay. We can only hope they find a guiding light at some point and