(About a 3 minute read)
Nearly a quarter century ago, I went through an almost traumatizing episode of my life when I was a daily witness to the progressive degradation and abuse of a somewhat younger woman, who I very much loved, at the hands of her new boyfriend. She was my secretary, and what happened to her over a period of a mere few months shook me as most things simply cannot.
I’ve written about Tara here. Before she rebounded from a broken relationship into the fists of her abuser, Tara was a remarkably light-hearted woman. She made the hours we worked together zip by on the rails of our laughter. It was curious how hard we could work and yet at the same time tell each other jokes almost constantly.
All of that progressively changed once her abuser got his hooks into her. In the end, she wasn’t even keeping up her personal hygiene.
It had a number of profound effects on me. The one effect I will discuss here might come across to some folks as counter-intuitive and quite strange. Her abuse was instrumental in changing me from someone who was perhaps overly critical of people into someone who habitually focuses on what is good or best in people.
That’s not to say I ignore the worse things about people these days, it’s just to say I don’t make them front and center in my views of folks.
I try to be as realistic as I can about it, and to avoid anything I consider more than mild exaggeration, but basically, yeah — I’ve been rebelling against the spiritual rape of Tara ever since it happened by trying to assert and affirm what’s good in people.
It’s my way of raging against the dying of the light.
A small part of it all is that I’m unusually free in my praise for people — so free that I know I am often mistaken for offering mere flattery. But that matters less to me than my felt need to rage.
Yet, it has long concerned me that I could have a negative effect on someone, for I am aware that it is possible to miss-praise someone. That is, to wrongly assess their strengths and praise the wrong things about them, thus possibly misleading them.
If it sounds to you like I might be over-concerned about that, then please consider that praise is capable of having quite an emotional and motivational effect on people.
However, I’m not too worried about a more commonly recognized ill-effect of praise. Namely the thought someone might get a swelled up ego from it. The way I see it, life beats most people down much more often and effectively than my praise is going to build them up.
Besides, several people over the years have told me I was instrumental in building up their self-esteem to the point they felt able to leave an abusive partner, who had been the one to beat them down in the first place. The more abusers I can put the shaft to in that way, the happier my life is.
So I can see both some pros and cons to praise. On the one hand it can build up people in a world that so often tears them down, but on the other hand, it can misdirect people, confuse them about themselves, and even hinder their living authentically. But what do you think about praise? What are its pros and cons to you?