On Edification: Up-Building of Others

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Soren Kierkegaard (1813 — 1855)

Edification Ennobles Others

What do human beings need now, at the beginning of the 21st century, perhaps more than in previous generations? Edification, which is the up-building of other persons in mind, body and spirit! Edification presupposes, according to Soren Kierkegaard, “possibility,” the latent or hidden human potential in persons to change for the better.

How ennobling, how worthy of human dignity, it is to see the good, perhaps even in the best, in others, calling them up to be more than what they are. How easy, how weak, how jaded in mind and spirit, it is to see only the negative things about others, underestimating and, thus, degrading their value as persons.

To underestimate others, then, is to think less of them, to make less of them as persons. To overestimate them is to make them into better persons or the best they can be. Thus, a person, by his or her attitude toward others, may be an occasion to bring out the best or worst in them, or, perhaps, nothing at all.

Edification Draws upon the Divine Potential in Others

A person’s view of others is often shaped by his or her world view. In other words, if a person believes that others are destined by God to be great, then he or she treats them according to that belief, raising them up, that is, requiring more of them, the best they have, at the moment, to offer. But if he or she does not have faith in the positive potential of human beings as divine-like creatures, viewing them as “nobodies” or, even worse, indifferently, then he or she has no expectations for them and, thus, simply settles for how they are.

Edification Makes a Meaningful Difference in Others 

Now, it is certainly not wrong to accept others for whom they are. But persons are not only “human beings” but also “human becomings.” In others words, they shape and, hopefully, change their lives for the better by someone’s encouragement and the choices they themselves make.

Here, then, in a nutshell, is my philosophy of edification:

If I can encourage others; if I can build them up; if I can refresh their discouraged souls; if I can bring out the best in others; if I can see the good in them, despite their faults; then I have, in some small way, changed the world, for to change other persons for the better is to make a meaningful mark on the world.

Endnote

Soren Kierkegaard, “Either/Or: A Fragment of Life,” (1843) in A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed. Robert Bretall (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1946, paperback ed. 1973), p. 35. Possibility also presupposes the individual’s potential to change for the worse, to make less of his or her life.

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