I've always been a slow adopter of the world of change. I was dragged kicking-and-screaming into the world of cell phones, holding out for years until I caved to the pressure. I never understood the call of Bebo. I didn't join SnapChat until I saw I could swap my face with my friends.
So when the wave of Candy Crush swept through smartphones, I was blissfully oblivious to what this game was all about.
Till one wintry day in the heart of procrastinating through my thesis, I stumbled upon a web-version of Candy Crush and innocently loaded it up. Within seconds, I was in a world of candy-matching heaven, creating stripes, bombs and delicious combos. I was hooked.
That week, as I had lunch with a friend, I mentioned my latest foray into this game. He laughed, telling me about his previous addiction to the game, but then said,
"It's the words. You create a combo and the game compliments you. 'Groovy', 'Amazing' or 'Divine!' They're said with such passion, you start believing them."
When I returned from lunch, and loaded up another level, I reflected on his words—and realised they were true.
The bright colours, flashing effects and playful carnival soundtrack all make an atmosphere of fun. But the words that appear when you achieve success are the true addiction, as they offer positive feedback on your progress and make you feel like you are accomplishing tasks of true significance.
My friend Matt Browning recently described his experiences working with at-risk youth, and noted that he was "...becoming more and more convinced that encouragement is the currency of life that most people have become bankrupt from."
In a world bankrupt of encouragement, cheap sugary alternatives like Candy Crush can be a compelling alternative—an easy way to receive the rush of recognition and praise. However, like all imposters, this is only a temporary fix and leaves you desiring more and more.
Something More Sustaining
Around the same time as Matt's article came out, I received a message from a friend that had words of thoughtful, direct encouragement and brave honesty. Their words were specific and spoke to the heart, naming goodness that they had seen in me, and encouraging me in my direction.
These words were so nourishing and such a delight. I re-read their message multiple times over the following days, and was energised by them. If Candy Crush was a dose of sugary imitation, these were a sustaining feast.
I was reminded of research by Theresa Amabile, an expert in creativity from Harvard University. In her extensive survey of the most creative organisations, she concludes that the key to a creative workforce is leaders recognising the meaningful progress their employees are making.
Simply put, when people's work—even the small wins!—is noticed and encouraged, they are motivated to carry on. Amabile identified that regular recognition makes work more meaningful, and calls out the best in employees. Perhaps encouragement in life has the same effect.
Paul the Apostle, one of the early church leaders, knew this truth and urged others to practice it. When writing to a small church in Ephesus, he said,
"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."
Words that build up—these are the words that are to be on the lips of those who follow Jesus.
Yet, in the entropy that is our rebellion against the true way of life, it amazes me how my natural desire is to use words that tear down.
Each word requires the same amount of energy. Words of encouragement and words of negativity both require the same breath, the same tightening of the vocal cords and the same dance of tongue and teeth. It takes no more time or effort to encourage—yet my default position seems to be the opposite.
I've noticed this as I seem to be someone who is especially quick with words. I can verbally wrangle with the best of them, and often find my tongue racing ahead faster than my heart can catch up. I recognise this is a gift—yet so often our gifts can have a shadow side to them.
Choosing the Real Words
As a 14 year old, I asked one of my mentors what area of my life needed the most work. His words still echoed to me, as he said,
"You've got a fast tongue, and you get to choose whether to use this to help strengthen and grow others, or embarrass and injure them."
So often, I forget this advice—until I receive words of encouragement myself. It is then I remember that good words can unlock futures and sustain others in ways that I cannot imagine—and painful words can linger long and destroy the hopes that others have.
Henri Nouwen captures this truth succinctly, saying,
"How much longer will I live? .... Only one thing seems clear to me. Every day should be well-lived. What a simple truth! Still, it is worthy my attention. Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing?... These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come."
In light of this, the faux-encouragement of Candy Crush fades away, yet serves as a reminder to use words to encourage others on their progress in life, as they struggle and succeed, persevere and pursue.
Jeremy writes weekly on life, faith and creativity at www.jeremysuisted.com
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html