In a TED talk given by Rita Pierson entitled “Every Kid Needs A Champion”, she tells the story of a child in one of her classes who misses 18 out of 20 questions on a quiz. When she puts the grade on the quiz paper, she puts a +2 and a smiley face. The child questions her about the grade, and she tells him he’s on the road. That he didn’t miss all of the questions, and she encourages him by asking him if he could do better after they reviewed the material again. He responds that he thinks he can do better. The next thing she says is that “minus 18 sucks all the life out of you, but plus 2 says that I’m not all bad”.

In the Mandt System, we talk a lot about building people up. We seek to empower and support people so they can make better and different decisions and improve their own quality of life. One place where the idea of building people up stands out to me is in our discussion of Positive Behavior Support. We explore the idea of providing positive consequences to reinforce or increase a behavior as being more affective that using aversive consequences to punish or decrease a behavior. There are a number reasons why this is true, but the most compelling one for me has to do with how these two approaches make people feel about themselves. When we impose aversive consequences for undesired behavior, we almost always make people feel worse about themselves and their ability to make positive changes in their lives. Positive consequences, when given as a response to a desired behavior, tend to have the effect of making people feel better about themselves and their ability to change and improve. In other words, they tend to build people up.

So maybe the next time you’re angry with a co-worker or someone you supervise or want to take something away from a child or an individual you serve. Try to think of a way to empower that person to do better by giving positive responses for the things the person does well. Try to build them up. My experience tells me that most people will do better when they feel better about themselves. I certainly know that I do.

Doug ZehrVogt, Mandt System Faculty