The Power Of An Encouraging Word
Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the long jump at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. Just the year before, he had set three world records in one day. He was the record holder for the running broad jump with 26 feet 8 1/4 inches—a record that would stand for 25 years.
As he walked to the long jump pit, however, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26 foot range. Owens was nervous. He was aware of the tension created with his presence. He knew the Nazi's desire was to prove Aryan "superiority," especially over the blacks.
The pressure was overwhelming, and on his first jump Owens inadvertently leaped from several inches beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouled on the second attempt, too. He was only one foul away from being eliminated.
At this point, the tall German approached Owens and introduced himself as Luz Long. Then an amazing event took place. The black son of a sharecropper and the white model of Nazi manhood chatted in view of the entire stadium. What were they talking about?
Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet 5 1/2 inches, Long suggested making a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jumping from there, just to play it safe. Amazing! At the beginning of World War II, this model of Germany's strength was providing technical assistance and words of encouragement to a foe both on and off the field.
Owens qualified easily. In the finals, he set an Olympic record and earned the second of four gold medals during the 1936 Olympics. The first person to congratulate Owens was Luz Long—in full view of Adolf Hitler.
Owens never saw Long again, for Long was killed in World War II. "You could melt down all the medals and cups I have," Owens later wrote, "and they wouldn't be plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long."
Citation: Ken Sutterfield, The Power of an Encouraging Word (New Leaf, 1997), pp. 105-106
Encouragement Makes A Difference In The Lives Of Others
Eric "The Swimmer" Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea was an unlikely hero of the Sydney Olympic Games. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim last January, had only practiced in a 20 meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters. By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don't meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100 meter men's freestyle.
When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone. Eric Moussambani was, to use the words of an Associated Press story about his race, "charmingly inept." He never put his head under the water's surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown! Even though his time was over a minute slower than what qualified for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and cheered the swimmer on.
After what seemed like an eternity, the African reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, the French-speaking Moussambani said through an interpreter, "I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going."
Encouragement Provides Hope
A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. Using a process developed by Helice Bridges of Del Mar, California, she called each student to the front of the class, one at a time. First she told them how the student made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters which read, "Who I Am Makes a Difference.'
Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community. She gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom and report back to the class in about a week.
One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons, and said, "We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened."
Later that day the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, "Well, sure.'
The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart. As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, "Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else? The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people."
That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine. He thinks I'm a creative genius. Then he put this blue ribbon that says 'Who I Am Makes A Difference' on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you.
"My days are really hectic and when I come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!"
The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn't stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "I was planning on committing suicide tomorrow, Dad, because I didn't think you loved me. Now I don't need to."
At this moment, there may be someone in your life that needs your encouragement. It may give them the hope that they have longed to have.
1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13
Chicken Soup For the Soul
Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, HCI, pp. 19-21.