Monday, December 3, 2012

The power of Encouragement

In my blog post titled "Ovation for over 15 minutes" (Click here to read it) I had made a mention of the tonic of encouragement an artiste or a performer gets when the audience or group watching the performance applauds their effort.

There is a story about the famous 19th-century poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, popularly known as Dante.  Dante came from a very talented family and his siblings were also writers and made their own mark in literature.  Many budding artistes and poets visited him to seek his opinion on their paintings and poems.  Dante was a kind man and quick to encourage any genuine talent that he spotted.
Once Dante was approached by an elderly man. The old man had some sketches and drawings that he wanted Dante to look at and tell him if they were any good, or if they at least showed potential talent.  Dante looked them over carefully.  After the first few, he knew that they were worthless, showing not the least sign of artistic talent. Being a kind man, Dante told the elderly man as gently as possible that the pictures were without much value and showed little talent.  He was sorry, but he could not lie to the man. The visitor was disappointed, but seemed to expect Dante's judgment and left.

The old man was back after a few days with some more paintings.  He apologized for taking up Dante's time and requested him to just look at a few more drawings, those done by a young art student.  Dante looked over the second batch of sketches and immediately became enthusiastic over the talent they revealed. "These," Dante said, "oh, these are good. This young student has great talent. He should be given every help and encouragement in his career as an artist. He has a great future if he will work hard and stick to it."

The elderly man was deeply moved. "Who is this fine young artist, Your son?" Dante asked.  "No," said the old man sadly. "It is me - 40 years ago. If only I had heard your praise then!  For you see, I got discouraged and gave up - too soon."  Dante realized the power of encouraging young talent or more than that the negative effect of discouraging young talents.  Dante is credited with founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement that inspired a generation of writers and painters.  It is a paradox that Dante himself was attacked by the critics on his poems and paintings.  Such criticism led him to a depression and he became an alcoholic.  It is said that he buried many of his unpublished poems along with his wife's body in her grave, when she died.  It is also said that he got the grave dug up later on to retrieve the poems.

Why talented youngsters get discouraged and give up?  Why they do not get the tonic of appreciation?  This question often comes up.  The first problem lies in the ability of the elders to identify or spot the talent.  In order to catch them young, the elderly require two qualities; capacity to spot the talent and the broad mindedness to appreciate it.  There is a need for the elderly to realize that the world belongs to the young.    The second problem lies in miserly behavior when it comes to conveying the genuine recognition of the hidden capacities.    Misplaced appreciation could result in more damage.  Appreciation should not be confused with flattery.  Encouragement should be in proportion to the hidden talent and not excessive.  It should also be fair to other competitors, if there are any.  An extra consolation prize in a competition does not cost much to the organisers or judges, but goes a long way in encouraging one more talented youngster.

What does our ancient wisdom say about talent spotting and appreciation?  Our forefathers have identified three levels of appreciation of good qualities - Guna Grahana (identification of good qualities in others), Guna Prakashana (telling others about someone's good qualities) and Guna Sankeerthana (repeated and emphatic appreciation of the good qualities of a person in all possible methods).  An excellent example of Guna Sankeerthana, the highest form of appreciation, is James Boswell, biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson.  His "Life of Samuel Johnson" is considered as the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature.  In fact, Boswell's "Life of Samuel Johnson" became as famous as Dr Johnson's "A dictionary of English Language"!  James Boswell was himself a man of many talents, but he chose to be a shadow of Dr Johnson and spent many years as a constant companion of the great man while writing his biography.  His was Guna Sankeertana of the ultimate level.

Coconut saplings receive little quantities of water when they are planted.  As they grow up and stand tall, they remember this kind act of some one and hold on their head many fruits full of sweet water and ready to offer to others.  Encouragement given to a young talent may continue the tradition and the world may be a better place to live in future.  A bowl of water to a young sapling is more valuable than a tankful of water to a fully grown tree.  A just and due appreciation to an youngster is far more valuable than flattery of an already well established personality. 


  1. nice one and inb right direction while judging and giving remarks

  2. More than all, an artist requires appreciation and constructive criticism. He lives on it, feeds on it and is motivated by it. Art needs acknowledgement. Otherwise it fades and wanes.

    1. @sudhamshu: I would like to say that everyone irrespective of any field requires "appreciation and constant inspiration or motivation" to pursue his or her inherent talent or to cultivate one's interest. Otherwise the person could land up into something which he or she would never have wished to pursue

  3. Apt point brought out brilliantly !

  4. Sir, This article truly brings to light the value of encouragement at the right point of life of a person that could elevate him or her to rise to greater heights in his or her lifetime. I recollect it from my own personal experience that due to my father's constant encouragement I could always rise from my failures to see myself in a better place today.
    Sir, I look forward to more of your inspiring and enlightening articles.

  5. This is indeed a good article; I liked it very much. All of us have the feeling that if adequate encouragement had come forward in earlier years, we could achieved very many things. O.K.atleast this article will spur us to identify talents in youngsters so that they do not miss out on opportunites like us. But will they value the same? Narasimhan