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Published:September 30th, 2009 08:47 EST
In Praise of Praising

In Praise of Praising

By Ignatius Fernandez

"I can live for two months on one good compliment."     Mark Twain

My nephew, a strong young man of 35, collapsed as he was walking down a street, and died before he was taken to hospital. At his funeral, his friend stepped forward and spoke a few fine words. As we were leaving the cemetery, I went up to him and complimented him for his good talk. Then, I asked him if he had praised my nephew when he was alive. `No`, was the answer.

Why do we reserve our best sentiments for obituary columns, condolence and farewell meetings? Why don`t we praise people when they are alive? When they are with us? In the same home, workplace and neighbourhood? When we know that it can work wonders in our relationships, why are we so miserly?

We all hunger for praise; no exceptions. Even Jesus was disappointed when nine of the ten lepers, He healed, did not return to give praise to God (Luke 17: 17-18). Wanting praise is natural. But actions driven by an agenda for praise, might not get us the desired results.

The good part is that our hunger for praise can be satisfied without a repast, or the spending of a cent. When it is so easy to give, and so effective in impact, it beats all logic why praise is not used more often?
Perhaps, it is our cussedness that comes in the way. We believe, wrongly, that by praising others we are diminished. Or, again wrongly, that praise can pervert a person. Are we perverted when we receive praise?

Jesus gives us the perfect example. He admires the Centurion for his faith (Luke 7: 1-10). He lauds the poor widow`s contribution of two copper coins (Mark 12: 41-44). He exalts John the Baptist (Matt.11: 7-10). He compliments Nathaniel (John 1:47). And warmly commends the actions of the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears (Luke 7:44-50).

How does praising others help us? Take a rubber ball and bounce it. What happens? It comes to hand. Bounce it again. Again it comes to hand. Praise works in the same way. The more we give of it, the more of it comes back to us, not necessarily from the same people we praise. The habit creates an aura around us, which people notice and respond to heartily.

Flattery is not to be confused with Praise. Flattery is favourable, but untrue comment. Praise is favourable, but true comment. The incense of flattery fills the nostrils and goes right to the head, which turns cocky. The fragrance of praise goes to the heart which throbs with thankfulness.

It is good to remember a few guidelines when praising others.
1) Give praise immediately.
2) Let praise be specific, not general. `That was a good talk`, is general praise. `I liked your talk for the powerful points you made and the appropriate anecdotes`, is specific.
3) Give praise often.
4) Praise in the presence of others.
5) Praise should match the level of performance. `Excellent`, when the performance is only good, is a mismatch; and downplaying excellent performance is not fair.

Broadly, our actions can be divided into two parts - good and not-so-good actions. Good actions merit praise. Not-so-good actions are to be forgiven (which we covered in the last article). Praising and forgiving are two virtues recognized and welcomed everywhere in the world.