With my final Words note before I retire and pass this task on to my colleague Terasa Cooley next month, I want to reflect on what I find at the very heart of the Courage & Renewal approach that CCR has brought to you for over 25 years: encouragement. 

I cannot hear the word encouragement without thinking about Alfred Adler.

As a teacher in the 1980s, I encountered the groundbreaking work of Alfred Adler, a Viennese physician who was initially a member of Freud’s inner circle.

He broke away early to develop his own theory of human behavior – a theory I find the world today yearns for.  

Though little known because he died young, and because the Freudians controlled the academy across the U.S. and Europe for over a century, Adler was an influence on the landmark work of American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark whose research was influential to the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s.

I believe that the implications and applications of Adler’s thinking stands alone as theory of human psychology that is a theory of equity and democracy whereas all other dominant Euro-American theories of behavior – Calvinism, Freudianism, Behaviorism – are all theories of hierarchy.

At the heart of Adler’s thinking is the role of encouragement and discouragement in a human quest to achieve a sense of belonging and significance among other people. 

Over many years of working with teachers, I played with the roots of the word encouragement and its opposite, discouragement. One means “in heart” and the other means “removed from or out of heart.

In experiential activities with teachers, we played with the difference between the dominant use of “praise” with students and the alternative use of “encouragement.”

Examples for praise might be: 

“Good girl!”
“You got all As. Here’s $5 bucks.”
“I’m proud of you.”

Examples of encouragement are: 

“I have faith in you.”
“I trust you to make the decision that is right for you.”
“Can you tell me more about your painting?”
“What did you learn here?”

We watched teachers powerfully realize that praise was all about the teacher and being manipulative, while encouragement was all about opening a relationship. 

Teachers in role-plays quickly realized that when people praised them, it severed relationships and that they were doing the same thing to students!

Encouragement sends a message that we see the other person and recognize their humanity. It is not judgmental nor shallow nor manipulative but connecting and open. It opens a door to relationship founded in dignity and respect. 

And it is one of the powerful ways Courage & Renewal programs create welcome so quickly among strangers.

Personally, it is one of the factors that drew me to the work of the Center seventeen years ago and it will keep me connected for years to come.

What are the most encouraging words you’ve ever heard? From whom?

Where do you feel welcomed without a shred of doubt? What created this sense?


Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Experience encouraging, revitalizing relationships in a Courage & Renewal program. Find a program near you.

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