Affirmation is not the path to growth

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We live in an age of affirmation. It’s on church signs, it’s enforced in the court of public opinion (Twitter), it’s even taught to children in school. Everyone is great just the way they are (unless they’re not affirming). That’s obviously not all bad, but if affirmation is the highest good we’re missing something.

We tend to think of affirmation as a virtue on a spectrum. Affirmation occupies one side of the hypothetical spectrum and pure evil hatred exists on the other. If that’s true then anything less than affirmation is bad, or at least tainted. But that’s not a real spectrum. Affirmation and hate are not opposites, love and hate are opposites. And love and affirmation are two very different things. We tend to think that the loving thing to do for people is to affirm them, but that’s not true either. Love seeks what’s best for people.

Affirmation can be crippling if we begin to believe that we’re just right the way we are. If we’re affirmed as we are, why make an effort to change? Why take responsibility if it’s not your fault? Why take some initiative if you have no control over what happens to you? Instead of affirmation, you may benefit from a loving nudge towards something better.

Growth happens when we’re challenged, pushed, when we realize that we might not be great just the way we are, when we see a new world of potential. It doesn’t happen by affirmation but by relationships, by tough conversations and experiences, by a new way of seeing or understanding, by coaching.

We all want affirmation, but most of us would benefit from some growth.

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