Yesterday, A DU student posted to Facebook: "My thesis defense is over, my thesis passed, and I received amazing insight into how to conduct research in the future from my awesome thesis committee! A year of my life has earned a stamp of approval, and now I can enjoy the last weeks of college!" One of his friends posted a comment to the effect that this praise of a committee was somewhat unheard-of. And this got me thinking about the gift of praise.
I'm not referring here to "praise" of a deity, although in searching for picture to accompany this reflection, almost every image was linked to "praising God." I'm thinking instead of the everyday praise we can give to others. It may be praise for something great and singular, like finishing a thesis, or having a great thesis committee. Or it may be something less momentous, like praising a child for emptying the garbage can. Whatever the situation deserving of praise, my suspicion is that we all hear it too rarely. And, if we hear it too rarely, we probably give it too rarely.
I suppose it's not so unusual that that would be the case. If we were to go through the newspaper looking for praise, we'd probably not find much. There might be some in the sports section -- a coach praising a player. And there may be some following a disaster, praising the first-responders. But I wonder if we don't really live in a culture of criticism. Look through the newspaper and one finds a bunch of that! So, in some respects, praise is a counter-cultural act. Groovy! (as suggested above).
We spend a lot of time fault-finding. And I certainly know that a well-timed, and well-worded, critique can go a long way to helping someone improve (or, at least, that's what I tell myself when I'm dealing with my kids!). But, as it says in the biblical book of Proverbs, "Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up" (Prov. 12.25). Don't we all need some cheering up -- especially at this time of our academic year, when there is an incredible amount of stress (getting papers done, studying for finals) and anxiety ("Will I get that job?" "Will I pass?" "Will I get those papers graded in time?"). Well, to all of you wondering, anxious, stressed-out folks, you've done great! Otherwise you wouldn't be where you are today! Good for you!
The apostle Paul, wrote to a young Christian congregation in the middle of the first century CE. This congregation was clearly focused on all the wrong things -- as one commentator put it, they were marked by a crass individualism. He challenged them to re-think their relationships with one another. He challenged them to manifest humility to one another. And he concluded, partially, by writing "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil 4.8). Although Paul doesn't come right out and say it, I imagine he would also assert that one should not only "think" about these things, but also talk about them!
I'm wondering, too, about one of our American "sacred songs" -- "Home on the Range". Well, those of us to the east of the Rocky Mountains do, pretty much, make our home on the range. Maybe we can embody one of the lines of the song for our mutual benefit: "where seldom is heard a discouraging word."
Lavish praise and good will! We'll all benefit!