What I've decided to do this year, as a result of the thoughts I discussed in my last post, is send encouraging letters to people whenever it occurs to me or I have the opportunity.
It's actually something I've been thinking about for quite a long time. Early last year I went to collect mail from our PO Box and my spirits were pretty low. Very early on, my kids noticed, "Those letters with windows are usually boring," and I have to say I agree with them. Yet the letters with windows are usually our most common, including bills, receipts, statements etc. On this day I had a small pile to glance through. Beneath a real-estate advert, medicare cheque and a couple of bank statements was a cheerful looking envelope covered with stickers. The very sight of it was enough to ignite a flicker of interest in me. Even though I hadn't opened it I knew it was going to be good.
It turned out to be from a 16-year-old girl who'd written to tell me that she enjoyed my fantasy novels. It took just a moment to read but really transformed my day. It was better than a dose of medicine. I went to bed thinking how powerful a few words of sincere encouragement can be. And the idea of making a sort of hobby of written encouragement has been on my mind ever since. If one person would commit themselves to writing just one encouraging letter per week, 52 people would be positively affected. If the same person would increase their output to two, more than 100 people would benefit. And if 10 people would commit to doing this, the grand total would escalate to more than 1000 positive letters. It would be a simple commitment that would involve no group meetings or evenings out. It's stayed on my mind all that time. So this year I'm beginning, and have already written a couple, either email or land mail.
You might ask why I waited for so long to start something so simple. Well, some of the thoughts of resistance that came up in my mind have been quite amazing! It's shown up all sorts of emotions that I wouldn't have wanted to admit were there.
1) The "What Difference will it really make?" question. Over the years I think I must've got into the mistaken habit of thinking that only the big actions are the ones that really count. You know, like being a missionary or a surgeon or a social worker. But hey, getting written encouragement is a fairly rare event these days. Who's to say that this sort of action won't bless and encourage people enormously maybe just when they need it? I now think it's probably a bigger mistake to assume that just because the action is small, the result will also be small. A bit of simple kindness, written or otherwise, may make a HUGE impact in the life of a person who is just doing their best to battle on like the rest of us. (Maybe too many of us assume that small actions will yield small results and that's why we decide not to bother.)
2) The "What's in it for me?" question. I admit, this one surprised me even more than the last one. I never would have dreamed how often I automatically ask myself this question until I started toying with this idea. For example, I was reticent to accept the offer of a flight to Brisbane and accomodation last year because of fear, but I reasoned, "I'll get book publicity, maybe meet some influential people, maybe even sell some books, so I'd better go." You see, it was the "What's in it for me?" question. It's actually been quite disturbing, to see how often this question motivates me without my even knowing! And for this encouragement letter idea, as far as personal ambition is concerned, there seemed to be no personal benefits as far as looking good and improving my career prospects are. I hate to admit it but I think it made an important impact so there it is in black and white.
3) The "What if I look silly?" question. This was the easiest to squelch. The thing is, it doesn't really matter. I'd rather appear slightly odd while sticking out my neck and doing a positive action than staying in my narrow comfort zone, looking 'normal' and making no positive difference at all.
Now I have to say, having sent about six encouragement letters to different individuals recently, all but one of them were acknowledged very promptly and that's given me quite a buzz that I hadn't anticipated. It actually is more fun than I anticipated to know that I made people happy with a kind word. Now that I committed myself to this, it's going to be fun.