Deliberate Words of Praiseby Ila Campbell
I was despairing of coming up with a good topic to write about this month and then (wait for it), my mother-in-law came to visit.
(No, I’m not going to rant.)
Usually when she comes to stay we have a lot of usual mother/daughter-in-law issues, but there wasn’t this time. No words of criticism, no disappointed looks, no behind-my-back snarky remarks about my housecleaning. This is the usual scenario since she considers cleaning her only job and hobby, while I have a full-time job, two kids, write novels in my ‘spare’ time and have a load of interests that have nothing to do with bleaching my curtains four times a year. So when I hear she’s coming and it’s actually during my vacation period, I clean the crap out of my house before she arrives. So she cannot find her usual faults with my life and it’s a perfect visit, right? Wrong. The lack of criticism raised a whole ‘nother problem.
The lack of praise.
Now, I’m not asking anyone to kiss my feet because I finally cleaned up those dustdinosaurs roaming free under the couch (not that I’d object either), but could I please just get some acknowledgement that I’d done something she considered valuable? (No, really – not ranting.)
This is something I’ve often struggled with, and I know you have too, in some fashion. My father was Mr. Stoic “shake-it-off-suck-it-up-do-some-pushups” kinda guy and getting him to say something nice about anyone or anything was like asking him to sever a limb. I remember being horribly upset and jealous when I was seventeen and he got a puppy that he babied like nobody’s business. That dog got more words of praise in a week than I’d heard my whole life. I think we could pretty much all name at least one person in our lives who is like this.
I thought I’d married a man who was the opposite of my father in this way. Unfortunately, that was the honeymoon period. By the time the kids started coming around, that had dissipated. Eventually I realized I’d married into a culture that functioned on the concept that criticism ‘corrects’ character and it’s bad luck to say good things about people ‘lest the evil eye turn toward them. The milder form of this you’ll probably recognize in your own life is: “Why should I praise you? That’s your job.”
But this lack of positive reinforcement got me thinking about how important it is to receive these small, seemingly unimportant words of praise. Teachers learn early how to grade papers with not only points for improvement, but also at least one comment on what was done well. Mothers often do this with their children (but most of us probably not enough) when our son or daughter accomplishes something and we say, “I’m so proud of you!” or just pull them aside and say, “You’re a great kid, you know that?”.
But how often do we do this with the people we work with? The service people who get things done for us? The family member who causes no waves and therefore gets little attention?
Writing is a kick-you-in-your-teeth business, and words of praise are scarcer still. How often do we tell ourselves things like, “Well, no news is good news,” or “I shouldn’t take it personally, they’re probably just busy.” That’s us reacting not to negativity from editors, agents, publishers, and their assorted minions, but from lack of anything positive. I know someone who recently nearly fired their agent over just this issue. The agent was shocked because she absolutely loved the client and their work. Well, the reason why, chica, was cuz the words of praise just weren’t there. Then there's another friend who belongs to a critique group who can only seem to heap on the criticism under the guise of "improving" her.
Admit it, don’t you just love editors despite their rejections if they use phrases like, “I really appreciate you letting me look at this first” or “I absolutely loved the characters” or “It was a really fun read”? And don’t we make mental voodoo dolls of the ones that just list the things wrong with the manuscript? Makes that “good luck placing this elsewhere” tacked onto the end sound sarcastic, doesn’t it?
The Wet Noodle Posse has been a godsend of praise for every one of its members. We have been incredibly lucky to have those words coming from fellow writers every day. (I find myself feeling better even when the words are not directed at me!) A month or so ago one of our members, Colleen Gleason, challenged us in her blog to commit random acts of kindness – to turn the kindness we give to each other each day in our group outward.
I’d like to propose something similar. How about spending the next week giving out Deliberate Words of Praise? It doesn’t have to start out grandiose. Maybe next time you make that emergency stop at Starbucks on the way to work, after the clerk gives you your coffee say, “Thanks for doing that so fast. I appreciate it.” Or “That’s just the right amount of sugar. Thanks!” Spread it around. I’m going to try it for week. I’m making a guess that it’s going to get easier as I go. And hopefully it will elicit some praise of that much-needed praise in return.
So there’s your mission, Readers! Go out and spread Deliberate Words of Praise to the masses.
Oh, and did I mention that we really appreciate each and every person who visits this blog? And that’s not just a cute end line. It’s sincerely meant.
Love to you all.