Years ago I wrote the article “In Praise of Praise” that was published in the Catholic Digest. It still holds true today. Because it is quite long, I will post it in two parts . . .
Mollie was the sunshine on our faculty. She had the gift of creating joy wherever she went. If there was more laughter in the faculty lounge than in the students cafeteria, you could be sure Mollie was there.
Because of her artistic flair, she cheerfully accepted to oversee the school yearbook. One evening I dropped in on Mollie when she was proofreading the final pages. Picking up a few of the layouts, I exclaimed, “These really look good!” To my dismay, Mollie began crying. When she could speak, she explained, “You know, you’re the first one in years who has told me I was doing a good job.”
True, Mollie’s emotion could be ascribed to fatigue. But I don’t think we an so easily dismiss her words. Although she was happy, successful, and well-liked, she need to hear someone tell her she was doing a good job.
The world is hungering after more than food today. People crave a sense of self-worth. A morsel of praise can satisfy some of that spiritual hunger.
Our self-concept is a reflection, magnified by our imagination, of what others think of us. If someone suggests that we’re putting on weight, we feel as wide as a hippo. If someone tells us we have a good voice, we see ourselves on a Broadway stage. If no one ever gives us feedback, we can imagine ourselves to be nobodies. Like the scarecrow, tin man, and lion of the Wizard of Oz, we an walk through life thinking we lack some essential element, until we meet a person who reveals to us our true gifts.
Ann waited a long time for her two front teeth to grow in. When they arrived, they were large, protruding, and about half an inch apart. Although braces corrected the disfigurement, Ann continued to be self-conscious about her smile. It wasn’t until a dentist commented that her teeth were exceptionally white and beautiful that she had the courage to unleash her brilliant smile on the world.
The wisdom of age has taught me that other people, even the most attracitve, athletic, and intelligent, on occasion feel as much like a first class klutz as I sometimes do. Negative self-images have a foothold in the best of us. We are afraid to walk up to a group of people; we anticipate making a drastic mistake; we feat that we won’t be good enough; we worry that a strand of hair might be out of place.
Sincere praise can give us a positive picture of ourselves and bolster our wounded egos. I recall a day when I was ten. I was at my friend Marion’s house and her mother couldn’t locate something. She enlisted me to ransack the house and remarked, “You’re so good at finding things. I’ll probably have it back in no time.”
“My,” I thought, “I wonder how she knew I had that talent.” The compliment did the trick. I was determined to find her lost article. I don’t remember if I was successful but I still remember the warm feeling her praise evoked.
When Marion’s mother referred to me as a good hunter, she transformed me into a great hunter. A husband who praises his wife for a tasty meal can expect an even tastier meal next time. A mother who compliments her kindergartner for coloring so neatly may be nurturing a future Picasso. Praise is empowering.
To be effective, though, praise must be sincere. Dishonest praise makes both parties fools. It works more harm than good, as does all deception eventually. One young woman told her aunt that her bread pudding was delicious although she almost choked on it. She has been eating double portions of bread pudding at her aunt’s house ever since!
The art of patting someone on the back is not complicated. First we must train ourselves to see goodness. For instance, when a child crochets her first pair of bedroom slippers, we can ignore the lumps and uneven stitches and point out that the pompoms are positively perfect.
Those who find it easier to convey their feelings on paper can write other to tell them how wonderful they are. A special occasion like an anniversary or Christmas is the ideal time to do this. We might write a congratulatory letter after seeing an outstanding performance, reading a good article or hearing of someone’s noteworthy achievement.
To be continued next week.