I’ve been thinking about praise and criticism lately. I’ve been thinking about how each of these impact the way I live my life.
I’m not one to suggest that we shouldn’t praise our children. Yes, praise can be over-used to the point of being useless, or worse, detrimental. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I will continue to show Whinnie praise and approval when she reaches some new milestone or acquires a new (especially hard-won) skill. I believe children — especially babies — are wired to watch our reactions to their activities. They want to see which behaviors, which skills are more and less adaptive to their environment. And it is our ‘job’ to give them that feedback.
In their lack of understanding of subtlety and manipulation, babies are far better at this than we adults are.
But, me, I’m not immune to the push and pull of praise.
Praise is like a drug. It makes me feel good about myself, about something I’m doing, or simply something that I am. It takes great intention and focus to not let myself be derailed by praise sometimes.
Criticism is easier for me. Not because I am a glutton for punishment, but because I can see that it is not about the ‘whole of me.’
That’s the difference between the two. Praise seems to envelop us in a cloud of good feelings. I accept it more readily, probably because I wish it to be true.
Criticism I can allow to wash over me and remember that I am more than that which irritates another being.
So my challenge is to do the same with praise, with approval. I need to remember that praise, while it feels good, does not necessarily look at the whole of me. It brings out one tiny detail (accurate or not) and shines a light on it. It may not have much to do with who I am and/or who I want to be.
I read recently that the challenge of maintaining balance is to let both happiness and sadness flow over and around me without being unsettled. Seems to me that praise and criticism are very similar.
I can accept praise and criticism with equal good manners, and then move on my path undeterred.
It is nice to have people like me, to have their affection and approval. But I must move through my days with a deep and passionate focus on my journey — on who I am, who I want to be, who I am becoming.
If I can model this for my children on a daily basis, well, there is no better curricula for living a real, passionate, and authentic life…