Monday, November 30, 2009

In praise of praise

We all need praise at some time in our life – which is in effect recognition that we are worthy, creative human beings. For someone who has never been praised; someone who has never had a loving hug and a kiss; someone who has been institutionalised, either as an orphan or for some other reason, this lack of recognition will have severe long term ramifications. All of us will acknowledge the devastating emotional effect that may result from being ignored, rejected or given the ‘cold shoulder’ by someone we admire or would like to make friends with.

In any relationship – at work, family or friends – we need recognition as someone worthwhile, in our own right as a human being. This is why the worst punishment for any person is to be placed in solitary confinement (‘time out’ for a young child has a similar effect). This is to be isolated and have no meaningful contact with anyone. People may be driven insane by such treatment. Lacking meaningful contact and relationships with others of our kind is it any wonder that some, in this situation, resort to alcohol and drugs to dull the pain of non-existent or fractured associations or friendships.

Praise not only recognises us as human beings but also recognises some special feature or behaviour, which shows and others acknowledge, that we, as individuals have risen above the ‘norm’ and done or said something creditable and worthy.

While it is necessary for us to belong in a general sense, and to have a place in society – hence the intense feelings and emotional support given by members to their chosen sports team, their club, gang, tribe or clan - it has to be acknowledged that we are individuals, not clones. We normally conform to our society’s (often unwritten) rules and regulations for security and for general acceptance purposes. Why else do we follow the dictates of fashion; why else do we try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’; why else do we follow society’s mores and moral guidelines, or those of our club or gang?

This ‘requirement’ to conform and to be accepted cannot be carried too far in that anyone who does not conform may be considered eccentric and either ostracized as ‘strange’ or forced to conform, with dire effects on an individual’s psyche. It is a fine balancing act to find the point where one may safely exercise one’s individuality yet at the same time be seen to conform to societies expectations.

This is where praise or some form of acknowledgement is so valuable, and for two reasons. Firstly, it takes someone with courage to stand up for themselves and their individuality against the expectations of their society – this is praiseworthy. Secondly, only a few in the general populace have the insight to recognise the worth and the creativity of someone who is prepared to be different, and, as it were to thumb their nose at convention.

Think about it. Without some praise of individuality, some recognition of a person’s worth, and, most importantly the expression of that praise by way of emotional support (a hug and a kiss) or financial reward or public honour, there would be no inventions; no progress (in a material sense); no innovation in the arts.

Without recognition and praise the substance of human creativity would be still-born. It is really important to praise – judiciously praise – the deserving and the worthy.