Positive Words: In Praise of Praise, Part 1

by Kathleen Glavich, SND on April 22, 2015

in Blogs

DSCN2053Last week I wrote a poem for children about good words to say like “Please” and “Thank you.” This prompted me to think about good words for adults to say. Of course, words like “Excuse me” and “Thank you” are ingrained habits by now, but we might not always state what needs saying. I recall once introducing my niece to someone and remarking what a great job she does at her workplace. My niece responded, “Aunt Kathy, that’s the first time you ever said you liked what I do.” Hmm. I realized that perhaps I’ve been stingy with words of praise. We might mentally acknowledge someone’s success or good qualities and yet fail to let the person know our thoughts. We might take someone’s achievements for granted. I recall times when people have commented on something I did and what a boost it gave me. It’s an act of charity to say things like “Congratulations,”  “I like how you always do kind things for people,” or “I wish I could grow a garden as beautiful as yours.”

Mollie was the sunshine on our faculty. If there was more laughter in the faculty lounge that in the student cafeteria, you could be sure Mollie was there. She accepted as assignment to oversee the production of the yearbook, a job that required sacrifice and dedication. One evening I dropped in on Mollie when she was proofreading the final pages. Picking up a few of the layouts, I exclaimed, “These really look good.” To my dismay, Mollie began crying. She said, “You’re the first one in years who has told me I was doing a good job.”

True, Mollie’s emotions could be ascribed to fatigue. But we can’t so easily dismiss her words. Although she was happy, successful, and well-liked, she needed to hear someone tell her she was doing a good job. The world is hungering after more than food. People crave a sense of self-worth. A morsel of praise can satisfy some of that spiritual hunger. When I was editor of a textbook series, as I looked over pages, I would write comments like “Lovely” and “Wow.” A woman from the publishing company told me that the graphic designer cut out every one of my comments and pinned them to his bulletin board!

Hippopotamus clipartOur self-concept is a reflection, magnified by our imagination, of what others think of us. If someone suggests that we’re putting on weight, we feel as wide as a hippo. If someone tells us we have a good voice, we see ourselves on a Broadway stage. If no one ever gives us feedback, we can imagine ourselves to be nobodies. Like the scarecrow, tin man and lion in “The Wizard of Oz, we can walk through life thinking we lack some essential element, until we meet a person who reveals our true nature to us.

Even the most attractive, athletic, and intelligent people on occasion feel like a first class klutz. Negative self-images have a foothold in the best of us. We are afraid to walk up to a group of people; we anticipate making a drastic mistake; we fear that we won’t be good enough. we worry that a strand of hair might be out of place. One day when I was ten, my friend’s mother couldn’t locate something. She enlisted me to ransack the house looking for it and remarked, “You’re so good at finding things.”  I thought, “I wonder how she knew I had that talent.” I hadn’t noticed it myself. I was determined to find her lost article. I don’t remember if I was successful, but I remember the warm feeling her praise evoked. And she transformed me into a good hunter.

A husband who praises his wife for a tasty meal can expect an even tastier meal next time. A mother who compliments her kindergartner for coloring neatly may be nurturing a future Picasso. Praise imparts power.

When has someone’s praise cheered you or impelled you to perform even more successfully?





{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison April 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Where can I find your children’s poem?



Kathleen Glavich, SND April 22, 2015 at 1:07 pm

My poem isn’t published yet. It’s at the publishers. Say a prayer that they like it!


Gabrielle Renoir April 26, 2015 at 3:44 am

Love your “Miss Piggy” humor! And I, myself, adore Miss Piggy!

The closest anyone has come to praising me is when my Academic Advisor told me she was surprised I was able to keep my grades up after being hit by a truck and in physical therapy. What else did I have to do? LOL And almost a year later, I’m STILL in physical therapy! And still in pain! Darn! My mother never praised me even once. Said she was afraid I would get a “swelled head.” I didn’t, but I sure did feel lonely and bad when I did a good job and no one ever said a word. It turned me into a real perfectionist, and no one should have to bear that burden. Words can do a world of good, and withholding earned praise can do a world of harm. It’s the unearned praise some people get that causes a “swelled head.”


Kathleen Glavich, SND April 28, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Your experience that lack of praise made you a perfectionist makes sense. In other words, you always feel that nothing you do is ever good enough. A good insight, and another reason to be people who are not afraid to praise.


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