Bringing Out the Best
Natalia J. Garland
Is it possible to bring out the best in people? Or the worst?
Is it possible to answer yes to one question and no to the other?
How much influence can humans really have on one another? This
essay will address these questions as related to situations of
victimization and empowerment.
Do victims in some
way cause others to abuse them? It seems that some victims of
domestic abuse will provoke violence in an attempt to gain control
over the situation. That is, if they can say or do things to
which the abuser will react violently, then they can control when
the abuse is going to happen. They can get it over with, so to
speak. Generally, however, do victims bring about the criminal
behavior of perpetrators? Is their something about victims that
seems to draw out an abusive tendency in other people?
No! Absolutely not.
It is just too easy to blame the victim, however subtle the
reasoning might be. Victims do not make people want to
slap them around. Victims do not cause violent or criminal
behavior. If victims really had mind-control over other humans,
they would use that control to make people behave lovingly toward
them. And please do not even suggest that victims enjoy getting
beat up. If that were true, then we might as well take the word
victim out of the dictionary because its meaning would have
no application to real life.
Perpetrators have an
exceptional ability to spot potential victims. Some victims have
been victimized more than once, perhaps many times. There are
probably certain mannerisms or physical characteristics of victims
that mark them as easy targets for abuse. A tourist, simply by
looking foreign, is a target for thieves in some cities. Now, no
tourist wants to be robbed or violated. Tourists do not
make the local thugs steal their money and credit cards.
Tourists do not enjoy having their vacation ruined. The
same logic holds true for victims of domestic violence or other
Of course, it would
be simpler for a tourist, jogger, or a shopper at the mall to take
safety precautions than it would be for an endangered spouse.
There are deeper emotional issues involved in an individual's
relationship with an abusive person. Whatever those issues may
be, nobody deserves to be harmed in what should be a loving
Victims do not,
cannot, bring out the worst in people. But can they bring out the
best? Social workers, and other kindly souls, will respond with
protectiveness toward victims and the helpless. If victims can
make others abuse them, why can't they make social workers abuse
them? Why then, when victims have a counselling session in the
therapist's office, doesn't the therapist start hitting them?
Why does the therapist respond with compassion?
Can victims, simply
by virtue of being victims, bring out the best in people? That
is a difficult question to answer. Are victims or the
unfortunates--the abused, the starving, the oppressed--capable
of drawing out sympathetic reactions universal to all humans? Or
is compassion a personal characteristic or a learned behavior?
Perhaps it is too romantic to believe that compassion is a
universal quality. Victims are not to be blamed, and it is
doubtful that they can be given credit. It would seem that there
are other reasons as to why perpetrators abuse and social workers
That does not mean
that people cannot bring out the best or worst in one another.
Perhaps it is possible to have some kind of mental control over
other humans. Specifically, advertising and brainwashing are ways
to attempt to control others' decisions and behaviors. Much of
the advertising and brainwashing activity is directed at people
who are immature, unhappy, have low self-esteem, or have
rebellious tendencies. There are also individuals with
over-bearing personalities who seem to be able to dominate others
who are more passive or without resources. Bringing out the worst
in people seems to involve negative powers who have an influence
on those who are lacking in some way.
specialize in bringing out the best in people. We do this in a
number of ways, including empowerment of victims. This involves a
trusting relationship and the active participation of the victim.
Bringing out the best is not accidental. It means giving careful
attention to the other, nurturing their talents to make life more
meaningful, and connecting them with external resources to make
life physically safe and financially stable.
Bringing out the
worst and bringing out the best are not equal concepts or
processes. Bringing out the worst involves taking advantage of
people who are vulnerable and who can be influenced to seek
fulfillment in false images, activities or products. It is the
perpetrators of these falsehoods who gain in power, especially
financial power. However, it is the responsibility of citizens to
become informed consumers and to evaluate political platforms.
Citizens can report fraud, boycott products, turn off the
television, read some good books, study the candidates and vote,
use good judgment in forming friendships, and establish family
Bringing out the
best in people involves their consent. Whether we are therapists,
teachers, ministers, family members or friends: we cannot bring
out the best in people without having a positive relationship.
People trust us, allow us to get to know them, model themselves
after us, seek our guidance, and depend on us not to betray them
for greed or vainglory.
Here are some ways
which may be helpful in bringing out the best in people:
Give genuine praise.
Reinforce existing strengths.
Identify potential strengths.
Compensate for weaknesses.
Use failure as a learning process.
Become aware of options.
Take things in small steps.
Encourage lifelong learning.
Focus on successes.
Provide guidelines and examples.
Connect with resources.
Expect obstacles and overcome them.
Stay calm and have patience.
Tenderly tell the truth.
Be a role model.
Have a do your best attitude, but avoid extremes of
perfectionism and excuse-making.
Appreciate the uniqueness of each individual.
Smile lovingly and really mean it.
Remember, bringing out the best involves cooperation. We cannot
control others by imposing our will upon them. People have a
right not to fulfill their potential if that is what they choose.
Let us hope that having contact with a nurturing person will open
their eyes to brighter horizons. (Written 03/08/04)
Until we meet