Friday, October 24, 2014

Withholding Praise

I like to compliment people. I like to see the good in them, particularly if it is not obvious, and point it out to them. But just as often, when I am not in the mindset to search out such things, I will feel a sudden admiration for another person and reflexively withhold that praise. I'm not sure why I do that.

Sometimes the people whom I choose not to praise are rivals in some way, or people with whom I compare myself unfavorably, so the most obvious motive for withholding praise is jealousy or self-doubt. But I find it's often something I do with people whom I do not envy at all. Perhaps it is merely inconvenient to offer the praise, or may require creative energy which I lack. But there is something more to it-- a reason deeper than all of these easy ones-- that holds me back. I think that the praise I most often withhold is the most sincere. It is the goodness I notice in others which touches me the most deeply. Goodness that stirs me and makes me feel bare to acknowledge. To offer such praise is self-revelatory. It is an offering. To share it requires courage. Yet I have found that praise offered in this spirit is of the kind that can break down barriers between people. It is powerful. It is a deep recognition of our mutual humanity. Offered to a rival, it is humbling to both-- confusing, warm and comforting.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So often the wonder and beauty and raw power that we envy in our rivals is precisely the thing we wish to own within ourselves, and feel lacking. We fear that to praise it in another will point up its absence in ourselves. But instead, praising it has the opposite effect of making us seem to possess it too-- or perhaps, it even causes us to possess it. At the very least, it acknowledges the love that is at the core of envy-- love of virtue, hatred of its lack within ourselves.

What we love in others we can draw into ourselves through open praise. What we praise, we attract. When we envy, we confuse our self-loathing for other-loathing. When we love, we bring our love of others into ourselves.

So the point is: whenever you admire something deeply in another person, and feel the impulse to conceal that admiration, that apprehension is the hallmark of sincerity, and should instead prompt you to give expression to the admiration so that it can flower into the fullness of love for self and others, rather than turning into envy and self-loathing. For such love has at its root the same impulse as its opposite: that soul-bearing appreciation of virtues which we recognize in others and lack in ourselves. These are opportunities to learn, grow, expand, and become more. Yet so many times we instead treat these as occasions to retract, shrink, hide, and lessen ourselves.

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