I was going to write this week’s post about paying compliments. Then I discovered that one on that topic that I wrote six years ago had value (with some revision). So I compliment myself: Good work, Kathleen!
I recall once introducing my niece to someone and remarking what a great job she does at her workplace. My niece responded, “Aunt Kathy, that’s the first time you ever said you liked what I do.” Hmm. I realized that perhaps I’ve been stingy with words of praise.
We might mentally acknowledge someone’s success or good qualities and yet fail to let the person know our thoughts. We might take someone’s achievements for granted. I recall times when people have commented on something I did and what a boost it gave me. When I was a freshmen, we girls had homeroom duties. (Yes, we cleaned.) One day after I had swept the floor, my homeroom teacher remarked, “This floor is so clean now we could eat off it.” See, I still remember her words. But I also remember my fifth grade teacher’s words when I couldn’t answer her question about history: “Glavich, you don’t know beans from butter with the bag wide open!” I never liked history much after that.
It’s an act of charity to say things like “Congratulations,” “I like how you always do kind things for people,” or “I wish I could grow a garden as beautiful as yours.”
Mollie was the sunshine on our faculty. If there was more laughter in the faculty lounge that in the student cafeteria, you could be sure Mollie was there. She accepted as assignment to oversee the production of the yearbook, a job that required sacrifice and dedication. 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. She said, “You’re the first one in years who has told me I was doing a good job.”
True, Mollie’s emotions could be ascribed to fatigue. But we can’t so easily dismiss her words. Although she was happy, successful, and well-liked, she needed to hear someone tell her she was doing a good job.
The world is hungering after more than food. People crave a sense of self-worth. A morsel of praise can satisfy some of that spiritual hunger. When I was editor of a textbook series, as I looked over pages, I would write comments like “Lovely” and “Wow.” A woman from the publishing company told me that the graphic designer cut out every one of my comments and pinned them to his bulletin board!
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. (I know a Sister who was told years ago that she shouldn’t sing but just mouth the words. For the rest of her life, although she really didn’t have a bad voice, she never sang.)
If no one ever gives us positive feedback, we can imagine ourselves to be nobodies. Like the scarecrow, tin man, and lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” we can walk through life thinking we lack some essential element, until we meet a person who reveals our true self to us.
Even the most attractive, athletic, and intelligent people on occasion feel like a first class klutz. 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 fear that we won’t be good enough. we worry that a strand of hair might be out of place.
Praise spurs us on to do our best. One day when I was ten, my friend’s mother couldn’t locate something. She enlisted me to ransack the house looking for it and remarked, “You’re so good at finding things.” I thought, “I wonder how she knew I had that talent.” I hadn’t noticed it myself. I was determined to find her lost article. I don’t remember if I was successful, but I remember the warm feeling her praise evoked. And she transformed me into a good 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 neatly may be nurturing a future Picasso. Praise imparts power.
• When has someone’s praise cheered you or impelled you to perform even more successfully?