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Bringing Out the Best
in People

Natalia J. Garland

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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 crimes.

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 commitment.

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 help.

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.

Social workers 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 values.

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 again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland