Privilege Blog

Praise, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:02am

I tend to resist easy praise. When I gave my manuscript (I’ve learned this is what to call it, not yet a book) to a couple of people to read, I asked them to tell me every possible bad thing. Almost as though I can’t trust encouragement until I’ve dug around for every possible criticism, and lived it first.

But I’ve been reminded recently what a good thing real support is. (Verbal support, I mean, I never forget how great it is to have others share life’s tasks.) Recently, Frances, who is very frank about her bouts of depression, wrote about feeling blue on vacation. Her readers rallied. Another instance: Carmeon told Instagram she was having a hard time with marriage, right then. Her readers rallied.

I don’t mean Instapraise, if you will. Sometimes the online world veritably rings with “Oh You Are So Great!” Bad thing about that? It’s pretend and therefore meaningless. But real support, and even beyond that, honest-to-goodness praise, is lovely.

I’m talking about the kind of affirmation (I never did think I’d use that word, but thank goodness we are capable of change) that happens only when two requirements are met. First, the person to whom you’re telling good stuff has showed up in truth. Second, you, the praiser, have actually paid attention. Not always so easy. You will have listened, absorbed, spent time understanding and considering the person as something worth their weight in your consciousness. In my experience, because I’ve been on both sides of this, that moment feels like a gift. On both sides.

This isn’t a post in which I deconstruct, extract a principle or offer advice. I think I’m just reminding myself to both accept and give more real praise, and of the work it takes to be ready when the opportunity comes.

Have a lovely weekend everyone, I hope birds are chirping nearby.

18 Responses

  1. It is a gift indeed,to realize and to have……
    Here is a beautiful,sunny day after so much rain and bad weather (I really do hope that somebody or something needed it and was happy with it)
    Have a wonderful weekend and all the best with the manuscript
    Saturday at 8:10 PM

  2. So happy to follow closely my friend Dottoressa in commenting on such a thoughtful post by my friend Lisa. It’s hard to accept praise (and I’m also a latecomer to giving affirmations much validity). . . Another good friend of mine, an artist with a lovely supportive following on Instagram, uses the phrase “Thoughtful praise” when she says thank you for comments that took her a bit to get used to. We’re taught to demur, and perhaps even to distrust praise, or distrust ourselves for wanting it. But when it’s the real thing — what you describe in its two important parts — Now that’s worth learning how to accept.
    Thanks for the mention — the conversation following my blogpost demonstrates so well the sincere support (and praise, which I’ll admit makes me feel uncomfortable, yet comforted) you describe. We’re a pretty good bunch here. Happy weekend. xo

    1. @Frances, “Uncomfortable, yet comforted… Exactly. And making progress toward comforted is my goal, because why squander well-wishes, as I have been known to do. xox.

  3. I prefer to give praise than receive it…I am slightly uncomfortable with compliments too. You’d think I would have figured this out at my age but no.
    Will ponder your post as I move about in the garden today and yes the birds are chirping!!!

    1. @Leslie Lord, Age brings us some wisdom but I have definitely noticed that I don’t have it all figured out;). Hope you’ve had a good day in the garden.

  4. I am learning to simply say thank-you and trust that it is well meant. I do struggle with complimenting and then having it met with silence.


  5. We have the usual suspects chirping away, but this year we have Hooded Orioles. They are just lovely. We’ve also had flocks of ravens riding the pressure waves off the mountain across the street. Sometimes they sit on the porch roof and carry on a conversation. I just love watching them, they’re gorgeous shiny birds.

  6. Genuine praise is wonderful. We all need it. That said, constructive criticism is also important. In both cases, delivery (of praise or criticism) is a skill that not everybody has. Finesse is key.

  7. For me, one of the unexpected joys of ageing has been getting better at giving and receiving praise. Note that I said getting better rather than any sense of mastery. Acknowledging skills and virtues in others and oneself makes the world a more hopeful place. Kindness and grace are very comforting.

  8. I have trouble accepting praise for familial reasons that as I age I learn others experienced as well. My mom, who was an admirable, talented woman, and who I adored, grew up in a chaotic environment she did not talk about. As a result, she held a lot of anger papered over with what seemed to be kindness and praise and an exemplary way of being. The dualities were not evident to me until after my dad (my role model for open, affectionate love) died, so I learned late my discomfort at what seemed kind but wasn’t, was real and required adjustments within me.

    I try, as you have written your mother counseled, to just say, “Thank you,” and internalize the kindness and the idea. This interests me from a neurological perspective as well. If we can just say, “Thank you,” and sit with any uncomfortable feelings engendered, we may be encouraging the addition of new positive neural pathways in our brains, and who can’t use more of those?

    I’m a loving, sincere person who gives praise when I feel it, maybe more than I might otherwise because I know what the lack of it feels like. Sometimes this trait makes me uncomfortable with myself because I don’t think it’s necessarily a socially acceptable way to behave (fashionable? I’m not sure of the correct term for my sense of this), but I continue to do it despite that. It’s my natural instinct, and if I have decided I’m good, I can follow my natural instincts. It may be a case of treating others in a manner one wishes for oneself. I have some close friends with difficulties in their past who say praise feels painful. This makes me careful of how I praise/love them, but I keep trying. I note when praise is painful, the receiver sometimes tries to block it with protestations and explanations of why it’s not so. I used to do that, or, I’d ignore praise or disappear if praised, and I have stopped all of that. Sometimes it’s difficult to hold the praise, and that in itself is instructive. (This makes me think of my rescue cat Joseph who had obviously been hurt by a human and was wary of being held. I’d hold him for little bits, just until he wriggled away, but I persevered until I could carry him around on his back, with his fluffy white belly exposed to the room, relaxed and happy. Joseph died in 2005, but this memory of love transforming hurt will always make me happy.)

    My belief is we cannot give too much sincere praise, and I try to spread it out into the world to people close to me as well as to strangers who I see trying to do the right thing. It moves me when I say out loud what I think is an obvious good emanating from another person, and find that they are surprised, relieved, touched, grateful to hear it said.

    The corollary to this is honestly saying, as Frances did, when I am hurt or depressed. This can be much more difficult than praising is for me in a world that wants the perfect moment rather than the flawed moment. I fear depressing others; I fear the TMI jokes; I’m wary of the studies saying it’s best to spend one’s time with happy people. I try to speak honestly about myself despite my fears, and I do appreciate it when others provides the light and the dark of their life.

    Thank you for, as you often do, making me think and feel, and then articulating the result into a comment. xo.

    1. @Katherine C. James, So hard when someone isn’t just angry but also papers over their feelings with kindness. Everything becomes so dangerous. Your kindness, on the other hand, I never experience in any way except authentic, thoughtful, and valuable. Thank you.

  9. Lisa: Your observation, “Everything becomes so dangerous,” was my reality with my mom. It affected my ability to judge the intentions of others. Difficulties arose from that, that I now work to alter. It helps me for you to articulate that for me. Thank you.

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