Positive Words: In Praise of Praise, Part 2
The art of patting someone on the back is not complicated. First we have to train ourselves to see goodness. For instance, we can spare a child the ignominy of being a total failure at needlework when she crochets bedroom slippers if we ignore the lumps and uneven stitches and point out that the pompoms are positively perfect.
To be effective, praise must be sincere. Dishonest praise makes fools of both parties. 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!
Those who find it easier to convey their feelings on paper than to voice them aloud can write to tell others how wonderful they are. A special occasion like a birthday or anniversary is the ideal time to do this for friends and relatives. For those we don’t know so well, we could write a congratulatory letter after seeing an outstanding performance, reading a good article, or hearing of someone’s noteworthy achievement.
We should not hesitate to relay to someone a positive remark that a third party has made about him. To pass on praise is to do a friend a favor. Ego inflation is one kind of inflation we should not fear. Most of us could use a little.
We can give people a lift by complimenting them on their appearance. We could save our friends the trouble of checking in a mirror or window 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!”
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 wonders if he or she made a mistake. This might lead to doubting self and finally quitting. Half the glory of trying and succeeding is receiving expressed admiration.
More important than praising what people look like or do is praising what they are. A widow friend used to begin her cards to us with “Hello, nice people.” That greeting gave us a warm 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 times.
We should praise the people we know best, those closest to us. Ironically, they are the ones we take for granted. When did you last praise your spouse? Sister? Mother child? best friend? employee? If we don’t take 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. We should not overlook praising people who have tried, but failed. Praise compensates them somewhat for their loss. Creative persons are ingenious at producing compliments to smooth over awkward situation. They tell someone who has muffed his lines in a play that he exhibited marvelous stage presence. They say to someone who has fallen, “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 have your words of praise had a positive effect on someone, maybe unexpectedly?
I’m glad you made a distinction between earned and unearned praise, and I never doubted that you would :).
I have cousins who were always told they were the most wonderful people on earth and that nothing they ever did was wrong. Even when my female cousin was caught shoplifting, her father blamed the store’s high prices rather than his teenaged daughter! This boy and girl grew up with the attitude that “the world owes them a living.” Adults now, they are not at all well liked by anyone who knows them and constantly have problems in life at work and at home. I think this is what unearned praise does.
I also have younger relatives, under age twelve, and I make sure they get praise whenever they do a genuinely good job at anything – artwork, schoolwork, even learning to ride a bike or trying anything new. I have seen their confidence levels soar since I have been giving them earned praise. And the smiles on their faces when they are praised for a job well done makes me feel on top of the world. It’s so important to me that they grow up to be the best and happiest they can be. They have so much potential, and I want to see that potential fulfilled.
I really liked the fact that you reminded us to praise the quiet or slow child, the one who tries but has far less natural ability and so is far less likely to receive praise. I was always “the quiet child” lost in my own world of trying to find God in everything and feeling no one understood. My mother wanted me to be an extrovert and popular, but that just wasn’t who I was. If we look at the quiet children, the slower ones, the ones who don’t possess natural abilities that really shine, we can, as you said, usually find something that merits genuine praise, even if we just praise them for trying hard when they do. I think your blog entry is one everyone needs to read; it makes such terrific and important points.
Have a joy filled week, Sister. I keep you in my morning prayers.