“Flattery is the beginning of abuse” – a Japanese proverb.
After a class I gave recently to our two thousand plus congregation, I was eager to know if the talk was good. A friend walked up to me and showered praise, “that was a brilliant talk. You are great”. Although I felt thrilled, over the last few months I had been reflecting honestly on my spiritual practises and had begun to think that there is more to life than simply craving to be praised. Although the appreciation did titillate my senses and pleasure engulfed my mind, simultaneously I felt a vacuum in the heart; although the appreciation seemed genuine it turned me off. I realized I was looking for something more. Just then another ashram friend patted me on the back and shared, “those two points you spoke about humility and making realistic prayers was timely; I had been struggling with distractions in my spiritual practises and now your class gave me hope and joy. Spiritual life doesn’t seem to be difficult after all.” As I thanked him for his appreciation, he hurriedly excused himself for a chore to attend, but not before commenting, “It is God’s grace upon you that He chose to use you today to enlighten all of us and it’s His mercy that we could hear from you”. As I came back to my room that evening I pondered on both the compliments I received from two different friends, and realized how one embellished my consciousness, and the other, although genuine, wasn’t adding meaning and purpose to my life. This also set me thinking how I should receive praise and also offer appreciation to others.
Praise as a tool to judge or manipulate
We often use praise as a tool to judge others. When we declare someone as brilliant, we are judging; although it’s a positive declaration, it is not real appreciation for what someone is or has done. On the other hand like my second friend, when we appreciate a person by making a specific observation and then expressing how we feel about the person or what he has done, and then about our own needs that were addressed by the act, we add life and meaning to the person we are appreciating. He then feels encouraged and inspired to serve. My second ashram friend saw it as God’s grace that I could deliver a relevant talk; this appreciation keeps the receiver humble and conscious of his duty to serve others. Thus while offering appreciation we express our feelings and needs that were met; and while receiving we remember God. This creates a healthy culture of appreciation that’s both joyful and life enriching.
An unfortunate practise seen in many corporate circles is when leaders use praise as a tool to manipulate their subordinates. Research may prove that compliments improve productivity but recipients of such praise work hard only initially. Once they sense the manipulation behind appreciation, their productivity drops. Besides, when people notice the lurking intent to get something out of them, they feel discouraged and negative emotions fill the heart; the purpose of appreciation is then defeated. Robin Grille, an Australian based psychologist offers penetrating analysis in his ‘Parenting for a peaceful world’, “When we praise with the intent to manipulate, it’s not appreciation but flattery.” He further explains that it’s not just adults but even children who recoil when they perceive being controlled. The use of praise doesn’t make the child feel supported. On the contrary children feel judged and evaluated when praised and eventually praise statements like ‘you are good’ alienates them.
Life enriching appreciation
Radhanath Swami’s profound wisdom on the art of giving and receiving appreciation rings in my ears: “When you praise with a fruitive mentality it is flattery and would cause havoc in the heart. When you praise as a regulative principle to clean the poison of envy in your own heart, for your own purification, you attract God’s love. Similarly when we receive appreciation we should be careful not to keep it for ourselves lest it causes us ‘indigestion’. We should deeply meditate that if it wasn’t for God’s grace all our intelligence, power, and ability would be lost. We should also appreciate the affection of the person giving us praise, knowing well that the content of the appreciation belongs to God.”
Marshall Rosenberg, the pioneer of Non Violent Communication says it beautifully that when appreciation is showered solely for the purpose of celebrating life and God’s grace upon us, and when such appreciation is devoid of any selfish intent, both parties- the one showering and the one receiving appreciation- feel fulfilled.Google+