Throw me a rope.

I love encouraging people and I love being encouraged. There’s a shortage of encouragement. Gordon Dixon worked in the prison near Ionia. My dad always referred to him by his full name. I remember the summers when I was eight and nine years old and Gordon Dixon would stop over. He and my dad would sit in the backyard and sip from a brown bag.

Gordon Dixon was a nice enough guy. He always seemed tan, and he wore a gold bracelet. But he was intimidating to me. He would look me right in the eye and ask me direct questions about my life. Since I didn’t know much about my life I’d usually stammer. So I learned to think of responses before going into the backyard. I learned a lot about myself doing that kind of preparation. I learned I was good a making up stories.

I usually rode my bike to Demorest Field for baseball practice but on this overcast summer day, my dad said he’d take me. I found him in the backyard where he and Gordon Dixon were having a talk. “Don, I’ll take Steve to practice, I’m going that way.” I looked at my dad hoping he’d overrule that decision. I didn’t look forward to the questions. I’d have to make up some more stories. But my dad agreed and I got in Gordon Dixon’s car. It was a very brief drive to the ball field.

On the way, Gordon Dixon asked me questions about baseball. I was embarrassed by my answers because I had been playing poorly. I was challenged and anxious about the dichotomy occurring in the first year of my baseball career. I loved baseball. But how could my play be so dominating on the playgrounds and sandlots of Belding and so unpredictable in the organized little league setting of Demorest field?

I could hit the cover off the ball and I was a very good fielder at Ellis Elementary School, but at Demorest, I was in right field. The one position that had been misunderstood by little league coaches for decades. The result was right field becoming a position that came with a stigma. Kids who didn’t catch or throw the ball well were put in right field and we all quietly hoped a ball would not get hit out there. I knew I was better than right field. I felt bad for kids in right field. And I felt even worse now that I was there. My contribution was supposed to be in the spotlight of the infield. Like at Ellis Elementary.

Gordon Dixon stopped the car near the gate of the diamond where my teammates were standing. I got out and was closing the door when Gordon Dixon leaned over to the passenger side, looked me dead in the eye and said in a happy but demanding voice “Give ‘em hell!”

“I…I…I will, okay!” When I closed the car door and turned to the field, I took a deep breath and drew in an air filled with poise, confidence, and self-assurance. It was that drastic. It was that moving. It was that spontaneous. “Give ‘em hell.” I didn’t know what it meant but I felt exactly what it meant.

I pounded my fist into my Mickey Stanley-endorsed ball mitt and walked towards Coach Clark. I looked him in the eye and said: “I can play third base.” He smiled and said, “okay, you can try some at third tonight.” He let me try and I executed brilliantly on every ball he hit to me. “Brooks Robinson would love this,” I thought. That move catapulted me to local little league fame and stardom. The kind of acclaim and prestige that gets a kid a spot on the roster of the All-Star team and an extra pop sickle at the concession stand. It was that moment of raw, spontaneous encouragement that made the difference. It reminded me of the player I was. Thanks, Gordon Dixon.

Over the years, I’ve used “Give ‘em hell” as encouragement sparingly. It’s not for everyone. It can be misunderstood or offensive to some. My kids know what it means. They feel what it means.

Encouragement is undervalued. Many of us don’t know how to encourage or even think intentionally of influencing others to do better. We need more. A lot more. We are a people completely out of balance when it comes to encouragement. Our first responses to new ideas or someone doing something unique or good is to toss in some doubt or tilt our heads sideways like a dog does when it hears an oddly pitched voice.

Dear People, we can use some encouragement to give others a better chance to balance the day. To give others a win. Auto-critique has become our mode, method, and practice. We need to go further in the opposite direction. Leaders need to encourage. Teammates need to encourage. We need to embolden neighbors, strangers, and acquaintances.

Sure we can use some strengthening of our personal will. We need to be able to say “I can do it,” and then go and do it. Sometimes, when you’re in a hole, or you can’t figure out why you can hit a ball on only one side of town, someone throwing you a rope can make a big difference. How can I encourage someone? I’m shy, I’m in a hurry, it’s not for me, I’m an introvert. Consider this:

1) You have to want to. If you see the value in giving others an encouraging word then you’ll work past the detours to get to the destination.

2) Listen to the positive message in your mind then say it out loud. Beyond spontaneity, I have some lines that seem to come out a lot. I love saying “you’re doing a great job,” “you have a beautiful car,” “way to go,” “tell me how you did that,” et cetera.

3) Listen to people tell you about their ideas, feats of strength, hobbies, and goals. Don’t be so quick to critique and tilt your head.

4) Follow up. After that meeting, when the discussion is done, or the event is over, send a note of thanks, and specific compliments.

Gordon Dixon wanted to encourage me. Get me fired up. The phrase “give ‘em hell” changed my life in an instant. That’s powerful stuff. If you have some encouragement, share it. A starting spot on the All-Star team and pop sickles are at stake.

“Give ‘em hell, Harry!” Origin: It refers back to an incident in the 1948 US presidential election campaign where Harry S. Truman delivered a speech during his whistle-stop campaign. He visited multiple states all by train with a platform at the rear of the train where he delivered his speeches.  During his speech attacking Republicans in Harrisburg, IL, a supporter yelled “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” and Truman responded “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it’s Hell.” Since then, the term “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” was used as a slogan for supporters of Truman.


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