In Praise of Praise, Part 2

This is a continuation of the previous blog post:

We should not hesitate to relay to someone a positive remark that a third party has made about the person. To pass on praise is to do a friend a favor. Ego inflation is one kind of inflation we should not fear today. Most of us could use a little.

We can give people a lift by complimenting them on their appearance. We could save out friends the trouble of looking in the mirror or windows so often if we reassured them that they were lovely. We could instill a sense of pride in children by telling them that they look beautiful. Anyone will perform before others with increased confidence if we support him or her with a “You look great!”

Judy was a gawky, gangling adolescent. When I passed her on the street, I saw a poised young lady. Spontaneously, I called out, “Judy.” She turned. I tried in vain to express my new impression of her, but ended up by saying, “Your hair looks so nice today.” Later that day I again spotted Judy approaching. Even at a distance she broke into a radiant smile when she saw me. I’m sure she was recalling the morning’s compliment.

A job well done is always deserving of praise, but we don’t always think to bestow it. Someone who gets no reaction to a performance will wonder if he or she made a mistake. The person will begin to doubt himself or herself and finally may quit trying. Half the glory of trying and succeeding is receiving expressed admiration.

More important than praising what people look like or what they do is praising what they are. A widow friend of my family used to begin her cards and notes to us with, “Hello, nice people.” That greeting gave us such a good feeling. It’s so easy to say, “How calm you were in handling that situation,” or, “I wish I had your tact,” or, “You’re such a good mother to those two boys.” First graders aren’t the only ones who need gold stars from time to time.

We should praise the people we know best, the people closest to us. Ironically, these are the ones we take for granted, just as we at our school overlooked Mollie when doling out praises. When did you last praise your spouse? Your sister? Your mother? Your child? Your best friend? Your employee? If we don’t take the responsibility for them, who will?

Those least likely to win praise are those who need it most: the quiet child, the unassuming worker, the slow student, the three-footed athlete. We should look for the beauty in these persons and let them know we’ve found it.

Matthew, a shy first-grader , was definitely not one of the jocks in the class. When the gym teacher taught the class how to stand on their heads, Matthew did it so easily and so well that the teacher raved about it and his classmates clapped for him. After that, whenever his parents were looking for Matthew at home, they looked for his feet in the air so proud was he that he had won acclamation.

We should not overlook praising people who have tried, but failed. When we praise them for their effort, we compensate somewhat for their loss. Creative persons are ingenious at producing compliments to smooth over awkward situations. They tell someone who has muffed his lines in a play that he exhibited marvelous stage presence. They say to someone who fails, “How gracefully you did that!” They have a knack for transforming embarrassing moments into small triumphs.

One of the saddest lines in literature is Wordsworth’s description of Lucy who lived where no one trod. For her “there were none to praise.” Luckily, most of us are surrounded by others who can join with us in a support system of praise. All it takes is a little optimism, thoughtfulness and love—beautiful qualities I’m sure a nice person like you has.

When has someone praised you and boosted your confidence?

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