One night I frantically typed a letter on behalf of a soldier with whom I had deployed to Iraq.
He was leaving the Army and seeking VA benefits for his problems with PTSD. In my letter I tried to convey the severity of his experiences in Iraq and of the trauma inflicted on his psyche. He had deployed twice and was seriously wounded in the first deployment.
This letter was at his request and such requests present me with two options: Do I adhere rigidly to “the truth of the matter,” giving “just the facts,” or do I employ a measure of liberality in my words to express the inexpressible?
I chose the latter option. I wrote things in an almost melodramatic way. Occassionally, I attested to things the whole of which I was not a witness. I counseled this man several times, but I stated that I counseled him “numerous times.” I wrote, “the symptoms of PTSD were all too evident,” when in reality his symptoms might be attributed to the stress of the moment. Additionally, I claimed that “the lives of soldiers, both Iraqi and American, depended upon the flawless performance of his duties.” But that statement was true of any leader in combat. After scanning and sending the letter, I asked myself, “Did I do wrong? Did I stretch the truth for mere effect?”
A Trip to the Pacific
Then I thought of a trip we had just taken to the Pacific Coast. Now I grew up on the East Coast. There, I frequently visited and swam in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But the Atlantic is no match for the Pacific in beauty. The aqua green color of the water, the rocky and mountainous shoreline, the setting sun on the ocean’s horizon, and the sight of sea otters and harbor seals forged an unforgettable picture in my mind. How could I capture the visual enchantment of the Pacific Coast to those back home?
Suppose I grabbed an empty jar from my car, walked down to the ocean, and scooped up a jarful of the water – then took it back home to show my friends. But before showing it off, I inspect the water and find it to be – just water. It’s merely clear water, perhaps a bit yellowish – hardly an impressive sight.
I conclude that the jar of water is wholly inadequate to express the beauty I saw in the Pacific. So I help it out. I get a bottle of blue food coloring and deposit a few drops. This brings the water to a sort of greenish blue. Then I show it off and tell my friends, “This is water from the Pacific Ocean.” Have I been deceptive? A better question is, “Have I over-stated the beauty of the Pacific by adding food color to the water?” I most certainly have not. The jar of water was still a gross understatement of the ocean’s beauty, but I had attempted to bring it closer to the truth of the matter.
Even though some may say I embellished the truth in my letter, that letter was still a gross understatement of the fellow Trooper’s emotional and physical suffering. My melodramatics brought my statement much closer to the truth of the intensity of the Trooper’s experience than if I had stuck with “just the facts.”
We do the same when we write up awards and evaluations. In one way we embellish some facts. But we, by no means, overstate the contribution and worth of the person we praise.
Praise and affirmation are as essential to the soul as air is to the body.
Therefore, I say, be liberal with your praise. Praise and affirmation are as essential to the soul as air is to the body. Psychologist Cecil Osborne said, “Perhaps once in a hundred years a person may be ruined by excessive praise, but surely once every minute someone dies inside for lack of it.” Therefore be generous with your praise and affirmation of others, especially to your children, spouse, co-workers and subordinates. The Scripture says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Prov. 16:24)
Dear Father in heaven, help me to realize that You have empowered my tongue to build up or to tear down, to give life or to kill. Please, as I yearn for affirmation from others and ultimately for praise from you, may I also be loving and healing with my words. Amen.