It is 2014 and I'm sitting in the front of the science classroom in Lake Butler, Florida. I sit backwards on a school desk where the writing table is attached to the chair, my feet where you'd usually be seated. We were playing 20 questions. Time was running out and I wanted the last question to mean something, to end our short visit on a positive note. I only had an allotted two hours with the top 25 FFA members of Lake Butler High School and I meant to use every last second. I ask the group, "What are you good at? What are your strengths?"
"Well I play guitar," provides 6th grade Luke. I look to the next student to tell me something they're good at, assuming each student would have an answer.
Timber is next. "Uhhh, I'm not sure," she fumbles shyly.
Without skipping a beat, Taylor jumps in, "Are you kidding me, you're so nice! And I can't think of anyone who can sing better."
"That's awesome, I didn't know you could sing. What about you Whit?" I prod.
"Well he's an awesome hunter," Savannah adds cheerfully.
"Yeah, but Savannah is such a good listener. She really is the nicest." Savannah and Whit trade smiles.
Lane is next, "I'm pretty good at math and stuff, I guess."
"Yeah we all go to Lane if we need help on our homework." Lane stared at his desk and a small grin appears on his face.
"I like public speaking, but I'm not too confident," Taylor let out.
"What?! You kidding me? You're an amazing speaker," Savannah shouts. Taylor is beaming.
"Well I don't know what I'm good at..." Mackenzie says from the back row.
"Okay McKenzie we all know you come off a little rough around the edges, but it's pretty clear you have a huge heart and are the greatest friend," Haley says without leaving room for argument. I catch just a flash of a smile before McKenzie resumes her usual tough girl persona.
Then there was Radar. Radar wasn't his real name, but that's what everyone calls him and he loves it. "I... I... I don't think I'm good at anything."
"Dude," Troy jumped in, "just being you is a strength. You are awesome." Radar smiles. He feels accepted.
One by one, each person helps to affirm the people around them, creating the most raw display of community, friendships and love I have ever seen.
It wasn't intentional and it wasn't forced. I posed the question unassumingly. This group of 25 people, consisting of 6th graders all the way to seniors in high school showed me exactly what building others up is all about. With other groups, that conversation might have looked differently.
When others are asked to speak positively of themselves, our innate tendency might be to refute it, to think of them as egotistical, or just remain silent. Why not build them up? There is nothing but mutual gain when we choose to build up others.
In a world full of people being broken down by cynicism, ego, and negativity, be a builder.
Next time you notice something positive about someone, hype them up!
When was a time you missed an opportunity to build someone up?
“You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson