Godtalk: Bringing out the Best in People


Zacchaeus in his tree, by Maria Laughlin

Jesus had been able to bring the best out of people, like Peter who became the first Pope, like Zacchaus who became a generous philanthropist, like a narrow minded nationalist, Saul, who became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.

We too can be like Jesus and influence people’s lives. We can encourage others or discourage them. Often we are not aware of our influence on others, but it is there nonetheless. Since we are able to affect people for better or worse, why don’t we try to bring the best out of them?

Jesus shows us how to do this. That is what Jesus did for Simon Peter. He saw possibilities in that fisherman that others had overlooked, including Simon Peter himself.

It does not take a genius to see the possibilities in people. All that is needed is a caring heart and a discerning eye. We can all do that. The first thing to do is to see them at their best and then help them to see it too.

The problem with many of us is that we so often don’t look for the best in people but their worst, and usually that is what we find. That kind of discovery doesn’t require much effort. Any casual observer can soon see the bad qualities. 

But the good, and especially the best, is often buried under years of negligent living. The casual observer is not going to see that. It takes someone who cares to see the best in people. We will not succeed at bringing out the best in people to whom we are indifferent or towards whom we are hostile.

The next step is to encourage them. Jesus knew how to do that. When Zacchaus pledged to give half  his fortune to the poor he applauded it -  but he praised even more the poor widow who gave her two pennies.

The effect praise can have on people is enormous. Most of us can remember almost every word of praise we ever received. How grateful we should be to those men and women who make it their business to encourage the best in people. Let’s try to be like them.  

Like Jesus, we must not only try to bring out the best in people but we must model it for them. Jesus called Simon a ‘Rock’, but he first showed him how to be a rock. Jesus was strong in times of adversity, steady in times of trial, reliable in times of need. If Peter ever wondered what his life should be, he had the perfect role model in Jesus. 

Peter Knott SJ