1 min read

The art of encouraging

Belle is the Reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness, writing for Seen and Unseen. 

After uncovering the enchanting story of how Prince Albert encouraged Queen Victoria, Belle Tindall explains why it's not only children who crave the art of encouragement.
Under a gilded arch, a statue of a young Queen Victoria sits, between two standing figures.
The Queen Victoria statue in the House of Lords.
Queen Victoria 1819-1901 Reigned 1837-1901 Supporting figures: Justice & Clemency Bas-reliefs: Science Commerce Industry / Useful Arts, Fully-rounded carving by John Gibson , © UK Parliament, WOA S88

In the Prince’s Chamber of the House of Lords sits a mighty marble statue of Queen Victoria. 

She is sitting on her throne, holding both her sceptre and her crown, hemmed in on either side by two figures who represent justice and mercy. Her expression is strong, her posture is powerful, she is visibly assured and confident in her identity and role as Queen.

You can view the statue, in all its glory, on Parliament's website.

To say it’s striking is an understatement. It’s simply unmissable.  

And yet, the most remarkable thing about this statue is not that it exists, there are nine similar figures in London alone. No, what’s so notable about this statue is where it exists, and why.  

The story is an admittedly enchanting one. Prince Albert commissioned this particular statue of his wife, and had it precisely placed so that it greeted her head-on as she stepped out of her Robing Room and made her way to the Chamber of the Lords. It had one purpose and one purpose only - to give Queen Victoria courage when she was likely to need it most. 

And that’s exactly where it still sits, its colour may be long faded, but its impact is not. It sits as somewhat of an alter to this historic romance, but more profoundly, as an ode to something that is notably overlooked in our culture: it is an ode to the practice of encouragement.  

Psychologist and Professor Y Joel Wong powerfully defines encouragement as  

‘The expression of affirmation through language or other symbolic representations to instil courage, perseverance, confidence, inspiration, or hope in a person(s) within the context of addressing a challenging situation or realizing a potential’.  

When defined this way, it is clear to see just how integral such expressions of affirmation are to the cultivation of a flourishing life. And yet, Prof. Wong also observes just how underestimated, understudied, and undervalued the art of encouragement is. The vast majority of research that has attempted to theorize encouragement places its focus exclusively on early childhood development, implying that they believe it to be an essential need that humans simply outgrow. And yet, while such an idea floats around on an academic level, it’s likely that we each feel a sense that this is simply not congruent with personal experiences. The delight we feel upon learning the story behind Queen Victoria’s statue in the House of Lords is surely evidence that this kind of encouragement from another person is something that we continue to crave well into adulthood.  

I would suggest that the underestimation of the practice of encouragement may be a subtle symptom of the individualistic culture we now find ourselves in.  

What individualism may starve us of

The political and social philosophy of individualism can be dated back to the late 1700s, primarily as a reaction to the French Revolution. Since then, it has been re-framed and refined countless times, perhaps most influentially by Emile Durkheim in 1893 and Max Weber in 1947. Each philosopher foresaw a society that looks strikingly like ours, here in the 21st Century. A society which expects individuals to grow, learn and flourish independently of each other, which values self-definition, self-sufficiency, and self-actualisation, which ultimately encourages a self-centred and goal-oriented life.  

In his 1841 essay, Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote that ‘nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind’. According to this school of thought, the rights and convictions of the individual supersede the duties of the community, and the Western world is arguably steeped in this very notion (of course, there are exceptions to the rule - the NHS and welfare system being two prime examples).  

To condemn individualism completely seems to me to be too simple of a judgment; the notion that one is responsible for their own actions undergirds much of our justice system, our right to question institutions and power structures is integral, while the freedom that each person has (in theory) to pursue their own passions and convictions is a wonderful thing. And yet, it could be argued that the emphasis it places on individual success feeds competition and comparison, which is consequently starving us of empowerment and encouragement.  

Perhaps this is one reason the theorizing of encouragement is notably neglected in so much psychological study.  

Further to that, maybe this is why stories such as Prince Albert commissioning a statue of Queen Victoria, or Marilyn Monroe famously sitting front row at every one of Ella Fitzgerald’s shows in a notoriously segregated club, or the Barcelonian crowd at the 1992 Olympics who erupted in applause as Team GB’s 400m runner, Derek Redmond, weepingly limped across the finish line with a freshly-torn hamstring, affect us so profoundly. Because encouragement is profoundly absent from our culture - and we miss it.  

Christianity and the emotional life 

 Christianity, as you can imagine, has an awful lot to say about the emotional life of humanity and the key ingredients involved in human flourishing. Although it stresses the individuality and dignity of every single human being, while also emphasising the agency (or ‘free will’) of every person, that is largely where its relationship with individualism comes to a halt. To untangle the inherent value of community from Christianity is a mean feat indeed.  

In his book, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, Francis Spufford writes that Christianity is supposed to make us  

‘full of passion for each other’s minds, hearts, souls, and bodies’ because it is in this curiosity and passion that we ‘recreate as best we can some fraction of the absolute and inimitable love behind everything.’  

This certainly doesn’t leave much room for an exclusively self-actualising existence.  

If Francis Spufford is correct, if Christianity’s worldview has even a little sense to it, then it’s possible that our success is directly linked to the success of others. Individual victories, communal victories, collective losses, personal losses – they are, to a point, inseparable from each other. If this is the case, it is worth suggesting that the art and the impact of encouragement may well be worthy of far more of our attention.

4 min read

Benefiting from the many facets of beauty

Belle is the Reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness, writing for Seen and Unseen. 

A jewellery start-up is challenging what Belle TIndall perceives as empowerment and agency.
Three women stand, two lean into each other sharing a joke, while the other laughs too.
Members of Zena's Launch Pad team, Kamuli, Uganda.

I have a conundrum. I’ve started and re-started this article four times now. And I’m surprised that I’ve settled on this opening. But alas, I have a deadline to adhere to and a cold coffee to warm back up. So, this will have to do. I’m struggling with this opening paragraph because when it comes to writing about Zena - the female-led, non-profit, environmentally friendly jewellery and accessory brand - I simply do not know where to begin.  

There are too many facets of Zena that deserve to sit front and centre in this article; too many details to revel in, too many stories to tell, too much success to pick at and analyse.  

Where do I possibly start?   

How about with the delightful fact that the brand is named after a beloved pet goat who makes appearances on their TikTok? You know, kick things off on an endearing note. Or perhaps the fact that there are playlists curated for all occasions, dance challenges, and even a recipe for tequila lollipops on their website? That would certainly alert people to how seriously this team takes the art of having fun. Or maybe I should open with the fact that they’ve both challenged and refined how I perceive empowerment and agency. I could explain how they have alerted me to the importance of investing in female entrepreneurs as a means of tackling extreme poverty and profound gender inequality.  

Yes. I think that’s it. Let’s start there and work our way backwards, shall we?  

These women are not beneficiaries, they are benefactors – and that’s an important, not to mention beautiful, distinction. 

In which case, here’s the heartbeat of Zena, here’s what you need to know in order to understand everything else about them: women living in rural poverty are currently facing two major barriers when it comes to business opportunity and entrepreneurship, and Zena are tackling both head on.  

Firstly, female entrepreneurs in these settings have little to no capital with which to launch their business ventures. To combat this, every single product offered by Zena, whose HQ is in Kamuli (Uganda), is hand-crafted by women who were previously living below the poverty line. Through the Zena apprenticeships, these women are able to support themselves and their families while also earning/saving the capital they need to launch their own businesses once the short-term apprenticeship comes to an end. These women are not beneficiaries, they are benefactors – and that’s an important, not to mention beautiful, distinction.  

Secondly, as well as a lack of capital, these women are battling a lack of education. And so, through a multi-phase entrepreneurship programme (The Zena Launch Pad), Zena are giving their apprentices both the theoretical and practical tools that they need to launch and sustain their own businesses. Women are graduating from this programme with literacy and numeracy skills, a viable business plan, industry-specific knowledge and skills, as well as leadership and development.  

Because here’s the bottom-line, the foundation upon which Zena stands, the deep conviction of both Caragh and Loren, the co-founders and CEOs; agency matters. Widening one’s understanding of success to encompass these women’s agency, for better or for worse, matters. Empowering these women to earn their own capital, to see the unfolding of their own ideas, to know that their decisions matter, it makes all the difference. No dependence, no hand-outs, and no debt. Just the kind of empowerment that is laced with agency.  

It’s bold. But it’s working.  

There was utter delight in her eyes when she explained how good generates more good and creation generates more creation.

So far, time-stamped at this moment in time, Zena’s hybrid and holistic approach has led to 67 female entrepreneurs, over 150 children in school, and nearly 500 lives lived above the poverty line. Women are hiring other women, businesses are birthing more businesses, education is generating more education.  

Pretty special, isn’t it? Pretty Jesus-like too.  

I had the immense joy of chatting to Caragh, one of the co-founders and CEOs of Zena; she reminded me that multiplication is one of Jesus’ most classic moves. Just as the people sitting around Jesus with wide eyes and numb backsides witnessed one humble lunch feed tens-of-thousands of mouths, so are Caragh and her team witnessing jaw-dropping multiplication happen before their very eyes. There was utter delight in her eyes when she explained how good generates more good and creation generates more creation. Compassion is contagious and innovation spreads. Although Zena is by no means an enterprise that squeezes itself into a religious box (empowering women of all faiths and none), it is easy to see how Caragh and Loren’s faith in a God who wrote generative goodness into the fabric of reality, informs their mission to write it into their business model.  

Something else that is woven into the DNA of Zena, much to my delight, is an unabashed celebration of the female consumer. 2023 may well be remembered as the year when an economic earthquake was caused by Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Barbie. According to Forbes, it is likely to be regarded as the year where people began to take seriously and analyse the power of 'the female dollar'. And Zena, with their penchant for all things pink and glittery, have been sitting ahead of the curve for a little while. Their products, as seen in Vogue, Marie Claire, and Harvey Nicholls (as well as embellishing the looks of numerous celebrities), seem to have been made with this cultural moment in sight. Their aesthetic perfectly encapsulates the resurgence of female playfulness and the reclaiming of ‘girliness’ as something to embrace and revel in. As I have already referenced, joy is something that this team take incredibly seriously.  

The celebration of women infiltrates every layer of Zena’s existence, that much is clear. While their products delight the female gaze, their profits sow into female entrepreneurship. Both of which display how working toward gender equality, particularly in contexts such as Kamuli, is a means by which we can wage a war on extreme poverty. 

Women serving women, who are serving women, who are serving women. And on it goes – so beautifully circular. So intriguingly God-inspired.  

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