“What reinforcement we may gain from hope . . .” (John Milton).
NONE OF US IS SO STRONG THAT WE DON’T NEED SOME OCCASIONAL REINFORCEMENT. In particular, we need the kind of reinforcement that comes, as Milton suggests, from hope. As the days come and go, our energies wane, our commitments weaken, and our courage fails. Fairly frequently, we need to receive a reinforcement of hope. We need to be buttressed with fresh strength.
But here is what I want you to think about: the best kinds of reinforcement are those that add a different kind of strength than what was already there. As in the physical world, the things that do the best job of reinforcing are those that add strength from a different angle.
Older and younger. Do you want some serious reinforcement in your life in a hurry? Just go find somebody whose chronological age is very different from your own. Interact with them. Listen to them.
Men and women. A major part of the beauty and mystery of life is the difference between the unique strengths of men and women. To be truly strong, masculine strength needs to be reinforced by what men can learn about strength from women, and vice versa.
Rich and poor. One reason for our weakness nowadays is that we cut ourselves off from any real contact with anyone outside our own social and economic niche. But “inter-niche” contact is reinforcing.
Each of us is a unique being, made up of strengths not found in any other person in exactly the same combination. What that means is that all of us have the ability to add reinforcing strength to other people’s lives. Because we’re different, the strengths we impart to one another will always come from a different “angle” than what was already in that person’s life. And ultimately, that’s why our gifts have been given to us, whatever they may be. Our endowments are not for our private enjoyment alone; they’re meant to be used in the work of reinforcement. And we use our various gifts best when we use them “to charm, to strengthen, and to teach.”
But the great Master said, “I see
No best in kind, but in degree;
I gave a various gift to each,
To charm, to strengthen, and to teach.”
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)