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From flattery to appreciation

“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.

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About the Author

About the Author: A senior monk and a leader at the Radhagopinath Ashram, a monastery in Mumbai guided by Radhanath Swami, Vrajabihari Das is a board member of the CSV, a Council that provides spiritual vision to the Ashram. Also a prolific writer, he is a regular contributor to Back To Godhead, an international magazine on spirituality. And on the web, he blogs on krishnayoga.info and radhanath-swami.net Venugopal topped Mumbai University in International Finance during his Masters. He then did his MBA. Though a flourishing career awaited him, he chose to become a monk, so as to dedicate his life for the welfare of society. And sure enough, Venugopal today serves as a lifestyle counselor for hundreds in India. His spiritual wisdom and genuine compassion flows freely, irrespective of whether he is counseling, discoursing or writing. .

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There Are 27 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Pranjal dixit says:

    That was a really instructive article and it really touched my heart because I do see people around my office doing the same thing, “praising for manipulation” but at the same time when we see praises or appreciation from a devotee, these are not hollow but are reminding us the supreme personality of Godhead and reminding us of God’s grace.

  2. Kuldeep Soni says:

    Very Nice article which deals very keenly the appreciation as aspect of Judgment.

  3. Shyam Mahtani says:

    This is a very nice article. I sometimes cringe when i receive appreciation, knowing it to be lip service, but then I remember that I too sometimes do this. I now have learned true appreciation, and I hope to use this. Thank you for sharing this beautiful article.

  4. Very much heart touching, crystal clear and insightful message. In our corporate life flattery is very prominent. I am very much happy to read this article and getting the clarity between appreciation but flattery. Thank you for writing this wonderful article.

  5. Anand says:

    Dear devotees, thank you for helping me understand the difference between praise that is motivated and one that is genuine and selfless. In the end of your article, you have beautifully captured in nut shell Radhanath Swami’s instruction on this matter. Such articles are really useful and relevant in our daily lives.

  6. Vishal says:

    I am greatly indebted to my friend and guide Vraj Vihari Prabhu for enlightening my heart with this article. This article really pushes one in building our character. Thank you very much.

  7. deepak bagla says:

    excellent article, i am impressed by the thought that we should seek specific feelings and needs and the appreciate which brings fulfilment and not appreciate for manipukative intent.

    thank you prabhuji for wonderful article

  8. Arjun K Ramachandra says:

    Fantastic article! Many thanks to the author for sharing his enlightening experiences. I particularly liked the statement “When we receive appreciation we should be careful not to keep it for ourselves lest it causes us indigestion”

  9. surekha says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article by explaining how we should appreicate others and how we should receive appreciation both as an act of remembering God.

  10. Manasa says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful words of Radhanath Swami “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”

  11. Riya says:

    The perspective from which I will see appreciation from now is completely changed after reading this article. Thank you so much.

  12. anand says:

    Expecting appreciation and receiving it can be intoxicating leading one to perilous paths. The post very nicely explains the distinction between flattery and genuine appreciation. When we put thought into our appreciation then we convey the message to the person that indeed we feel appreciated otherwise our appreciation will be a formality. A formal word appreciation is superficial and easily visible but a heart felt word of even just thank you makes a big difference. Like the post mentions the speaker and spoken to both feel enlivened. To genuinely appreciate requires a non-envious and humble heart. Hare Krishna

  13. Dr.Chinmayee Joshi says:

    Many times i do things with the hidden agenda of wanting to be praised for my effort.When i dont get the desired result, i obviously get frustrated.All the effort appears to be wasted.

    Recognizing my need to be praised and disengaging it from the the purpose of doing an action is a huge task.

    Reading the article helped me to understand the difference between praise and genuine appreciation.It also helped me understand my craving to be praised.

    Hopefully, expressing genuine appreciation for others will help me get over the craving!

  14. anand says:

    Expecting appreciation for our works I guess is natural but it is heartening only if we know very well to whom the appreciation actually belongs.

  15. rekha says:

    Thank you for this nice article which is helpful to see the appreciation in connection with spirituality.

  16. Y.Raja Shekar says:

    That was a superb analysis of praise Vs. flattery. The article ending with the summary based on HH Radhanath Swami’s comments are wonderful and touch the heart.

  17. Rajaruban says:

    “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.”

  18. anjan says:

    Many thanks to Swami Radhanath and his students for these wonderful comments on genuine praise

  19. Kiran says:

    I really was wondering how can we appreciate and at the same time dont deceive them or be hypocratic towards them, this is really an eye opener for them. I am inspired to follow this throughout my life..Thank U !!

  20. rekha says:

    In this article, the way we appreciate people should encourage the other person to do a better job and it should not have any hidden agenda when we are appreciating some one. Thank you for sharing this wonderful message through this article.

  21. Chandrika says:

    An insightful article in explaining how to discern flattery from appreciation.

  22. Rajendra Prasad says:

    Very nice article on genuine way of prasing one and receiving praise. Always remembering God for the praise we receive really cultivates humility in the heart.

  23. Kalpana Kulkarni says:

    Very true! When somebody praises us we feel elated! But we should be able to distinguish between appreciation and flattery. We should also remember that whatever we are praised for, is all god given and nothing is ours.

  24. umesh says:

    An instructive article, I particularly liked below teaching from Radhanath Swami-

    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.

  25. Gopal Lila Das says:

    Thank You for making me understand that i need to appreciate a person by making a specific observation and then how our own needs were addressed.

  26. ajinkya says:

    Parenting for a peaceful world’, “When we praise with the intent to manipulate, it’s not appreciation but flattery.all grace belongs to god , nothing belongs to us this was wonderful.

  27. Sahil Khosla says:

    Very nice article on such common place thing like praising yet how it affects us and our conciousness. The point that “we should not keep any praise received from anyone and just think it was possible because of god’s mercy” is really a torch light for our day-to-day interactions. Thanks for sharing.

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