A few weeks ago I tweeted the following statement, “Is anyone else surprised by how many Christian women's facebook and twitter pictures show a lot of skin? #modesty” A few minutes later I received a response to my tweet that read, “Christian women's pictures show a lot of skin?// People do what gets reinforced. Have you praised the modest woman lately?” Barbara Parker
had wisely and kindly admonished me. I had spoken without thinking. She was much wiser than I. Positive reinforcement is the wise way to see change occur.
I asked Barbara if she would mind being a guest blogger today. Her wisdom on this matter needs to be heeded by many leaders. Thanks for doing this, Barbara. You’re going to help a lot of us become more sensitive and wise.
These are her words to all of us…
“You look pretty today”, the words were still ringing in my ears as I looked in a mirror to see why today was different. Did they say that because of my hair or maybe it was the cut of my dress. Perhaps it was the shoes I was wearing that made someone notice. Whatever I decide prompted the compliment is more likely to happen again. That is how positive reinforcement works and it can be a powerful tool when used correctly.
Positive reinforcement is something that follows a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again. We all use reinforcement, most of the time without even realizing we are doing it. You may tell your child "good job" or you thank your husband or wife after they complete a task. This simple praise increases the probability that the same action will be repeated.
However, reinforcement is not always a good thing. For example, when a child misbehaves, some parents might give them extra attention. Children quickly learn that by acting out they can get what they want from the parent. Parents are actually reinforcing the misbehavior.
The same thing is true with adults. We can use our words to reinforce positive or negative behaviors. If the goal is to have women dress modestly you can either praise women you see dressed that way or draw attention to those who dress in a provocative manner. While you may be critical of those dressed to show off their bodies you are actually reinforcing their behavior. Women that dress in a provocative manner want to be noticed and, just like the misbehaving child, will do whatever they can to make it happen.
Using positive reinforcement when we observe behaviors we want increases the likelihood it will happen again. When we praise good behavior we not only encourage the men and women doing well, but may also modify the behavior of those around them to do the same.
It is our responsibility as leaders to encourage those around us to adopt behaviors consistent with biblical standards. It does not matter what issue you address; it could be clothing, language, or bible study. Positive reinforcement of the desired behaviors will always get us further than focusing on the negative behavior. As 1 Thessalonians 5:11 states, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up...” Let us be about the business of encouraging one another.