Yeah! I did it again! I pulled right up in the parking lot just as Louisa was opening the door of the building to walk out into the parking lot from her violin lesson! Hey now, I am fantastic!
Louisa swung the car door open and gave me a “high five”and said, “You are the coolest!”
“Yep, I sure am! I wanted to finish what I was doing, but instead, I disciplined myself to come get you ON TIME, once again, mind you!”, I sang out.
I am learning a new habit. Yes, this is my last child of seven, so it may seem a bit late, but we are ever trying to improve ourselves, aren’t we? And I am disciplining myself to be quite punctual. At Louisa’s request. Because waiting out in winter weather doesn’t feel the best. I admit this is not my strong character trait. Whatever I am deeply involved in (today it was bread making) seems to take on unique priority and it is hard to tear myself away until the very last moment. Which usually makes me about 10 minutes late. 5 on a good day.
Praise has an amazing affect! We know it works on kids and husbands, to smooth the way and help them feel appreciated. But it is funny to me that it works on me just as well! As long as Louisa keeps giving me “high fives” and telling me that I am “the coolest” for picking her up on time, I’ll probably have a very good reason to continue giving it the extra effort.
My mom used to tell me about how my stepfather trained her out of making tuna fish casserole for dinner. He hated tuna fish. He never said it in so many words—unless someone asked him directly I suppose—and even then I think he probably sidled out of it somehow. He was not a complaining sort of man. He was a man of few words, but at mealtime, he usually had some simple pleasant words to say about the food. But on the days my mother made tuna fish casserole, he didn’t have anything to say about it. Just the absence of those approving words was enough to train her out of making the dish he did not like. As for my home, my husband gives great exclamations of delight when I make hamburgers. Not that I think it is all that healthy. But that is what he loves, and he has trained me to please him just by being so delighted. We all want approval, and praising words are worth working for.
Kind words can ease the way with a stuffy supervisor or a rude clerk. If I see it coming when I am in line at the grocery store, I make sure that I strike up a conversation once I make my way up to the check-out. I mention how busy the store is and how hard it must be to be on your feet all day checking so many customers out, and it is amazing to me how it softens the attitude of the clerk. Not always. But enough times to confirm that the need for sweet words is a universal longing for understanding and kindness.
Overly praising is not what I am talking about. I cringe when school teachers pass out a “certificate”to every child, as if they fear ruining the other children’s self esteem to acknowledge just those who have really achieved. We’ve all seen moms who turn on the sugar to manipulate their children, or who praise them even when they are being brats. What I am talking about is genuine praise—those heart-felt words of appreciation and approval that are so welcome when one has actually put forth an extra effort.
Critique and sarcasm (the opposite of praise) are rampant in today’s culture. I think there is some value in looking at issues with a discerning eye. But I have learned a lot by observing my friend, Danielle, who always manages to diplomatically say just the right thing whenever feathers are ruffled. Even if she does not agree with the other person’s opinion, she makes peace with her soft, delicious words of praise. Since wars are started over words— “fighting words”—then Danielle’s words must be “peace words”. Watching her, I wonder if world peace really could exist, if we all learned to talk like Danielle!
Of course, God’s approval is what ultimately matters. But we’re human, and we are all hungry for acceptance— to know that our efforts to please and do right are acknowledged and appreciated by other human beings. Why not lavish it on anyone who deserves it, no matter how small their effort? Why not dish out praise to those you live with and work with? It is free, easy and makes the world so much happier of a place for all of us!