One spring before I began tutoring high school students in our local Classical Conversations homeschool program, I sat in on another tutor’s class to observe for a day. Latin, British literature, art and music history, logic, biology — the discussions fascinated me as I imagined someday guiding my own students in their study of these subjects.
But the most memorable lesson came during debate when the tutor challenged the class — and subsequently, me — to think about what it means to be winsome. I’m sure I sneaked a peek at the dictionary app on my phone as I analyzed this word that was unfamiliar to me at the time and which the tutor had stressed when she mentioned being “above winning” as the primary objective of the debate.
Dictionary.com defines winsome as sweetly or innocently charming; winning; engaging. I’ve never forgotten the lesson shared by the other tutor or the power of this word over the past eleven years as I’ve guided classes of tenth graders.
Often, my students don’t know whether they’ll need to argue to defend the affirmative or negative side of an issue until the day of the debate. It forces them to be fully prepared, to research until they understand both sides of the issue, and to be able to defend either one. This is a skill which serves them well not only in debate, but also in life.
Although they may not agree with the position they’re ultimately asked to support, they know it inside out, both pros and cons. It’s their job to come to class prepared to affirm or reject either side. Can you imagine how that level of understanding could benefit us day-to-day with people whose opinions differ from our own?
The desire to win serves us well if our only concern is a judge’s score-sheet, tally marks on a page, or getting the last word. But the desire to be winsome serves us well if we want to win others to our point of view. Winsomeness is key when telling others about Jesus or when we’re trying to be gracious in a tension-filled conversation.
I once heard a man speak at a high school graduation ceremony. He commanded the attention of the crowd and the respect of many simply by the dignity of his presence. But when he opened his mouth, his words were tinged with anger and disdain for people who disagreed with him. Even though his words rang true, his tone repelled the audience. He was the opposite of winsome.
To be winsome is to be persuasive, and a winsome witness for Jesus Christ will always speak the truth in love. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world living imperfect lives. We won’t influence others by our perfect example — it isn’t possible — but by the love we show them.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
John 13:35 (KJV)
Even in the darkest times, as Christians, we carry hope within us because the source of our joy is secure. We touch other people’s lives when we live ours joyously, as winsome ambassadors of Christ’s love.
How can we be more winsome at work or school? Be more optimistic than pessimistic and include those that others leave out.
How can we be more winsome at home? Work to maintain a pleasant atmosphere. If you have children, discipline in love, play and laugh with them.
How can we be more winsome in our friendships? Be an encourager and a supporter — someone who delights in the success of others.
Let your life reflect the love of God by the way you love others.
Do you know someone who is especially winsome? What happens when truth is delivered without love?
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