Today I was wondering: what made Jesus able to speak “with authority” in his hometown synagogue, in such a way that people noticed him for the first time? He surely must have spoken there in the 30 years before his public ministry began. That, and the fact that people at Brescia have been so welcoming as I began my new job this week, made me reflect on the role of encouragement and affirmation in our lives. Imagine how much Jesus must have been encouraged by the powerful affirmation he received from John the Baptist and from the “voice from heaven” at his baptism!

As a biologist I often get distracted by wondering what are the evolutionary advantages of certain forms of behavior; why would natural selection “choose” them for human beings? It’s easy to see why encouragement/ affirmation would be an advantageous behavior. (Picture a group of proto-humans cooperating to bring down a Wooly Mammoth: “Good shot, Oogh! Now we have him.”) But then I tried to imagine how the opposite of encouragement could possibly be good. I don’t mean constructive criticism that helps us do a better job next time: (“Better to aim your spear at THAT spot, Oogh!”) — I mean negative gossip behind someone’s back.

Can you imagine any biological, spiritual, or even personal benefits from negative gossip? So why is it such a “hobby” for some humans? Go figure. Affirmation and encouragement are surely more human, more Godly. “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive!”