Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Practice of Praise

 The unimpeded stream of abusive invectives, slights, slurs, attacks and vitriolic verbal assaults from tiny-hearted men given voice by sensational media is lower than it has ever been, spurred on as it was from 4 years of non-stop toxic tweets from the person (?) elected to lead the country. Our national discourse is set at the dial of @#$%#$^&#$!!!!!! and while it works by design to get our attention, it keeps kicking the wounded national soul that lies bleeding on the ground. 


On the flip side of getting these child-men (and women) to stop is to teach the next generation the practice of praise, not by any step-by-step manual with a catchy acronym (PYP? Practice Your Praise!), but by the model of elders who know how to properly praise and bless the younger. Not the nonsense of boosting self-esteem by excessive praise of unearned actions (You picked up your pencil and didn’t break it! That’s marvelous!), nor the over-inflated Facebook likes of “Awesome!” “Amazing!” “You’re the best!” But praising what is praiseworthy. Like particularly noticing when someone has courageously stepped up to their promise, leaving out the unnecessary adjectives about the person themselves and aiming straight for the actions that revealed the unique genius speaking through that person. When someone feels seen in this way, their courage to fully claim their vital energy gets ramped up a notch and both person and world are healed one-inch deeper. 


Praise, like any human faculty, is an art that improves with practice, but where does the culture offer that possibility? Where are the praise-bands, the praise-teams, the praise-practices that offer direction and guidance? They need to be woven into the fabric of any gathering of people. For example, at my school, various teachers had 2 minutes to capture the essence of an 8thgrade student at their graduation. I often did three students each year, staring somewhere around 1990. So that gave me some 90 chances to practice and lo and behold, I got better. Not just from finding the right words, but from learning how to look deep into the soul-force of each student I talked about and try to find the image that spoke what everybody mostly knew, but needed the words to know they knew it. And sometimes it was prophetic, describing a student in a way they hadn’t thought about themselves and years later, the image resonated, both guiding and affirming them. (I’ve had testimonies from alumni about this.)


Of course, there is no curriculum or special tricks-of-the-trade and certainly no aps. One has to have been digging into one’s own soul’s journey to be able to recognize the same in another. Again, unteachable. But the missing piece is the expectation that when you really see someone’s gifts, that you tell them. Privately and even better, publicly. You take the time and energy to let them know that you know and then step aside as their future opens up just a shade brighter. 


This goes hand-in-hand with the damage caused when people grow up unseen, unheard, unblessed, without elders looking for the deep soul or even acknowledging that it exists. More on this tomorrow. For now, just thinking about why I would share the letters like the one I shared yesterday and I think a hidden motivation was to offer one possible model of what such praise might look and feel like. Appreciating the specifics of what someone did, reminding them to be aware of taking too much credit, placing them in a line from ancestor to descendant and urging them onward. 


Tomorrow I hope to give a rough sketch of this thorny issue I’ve been grappling with about what happens when such authentic praise is absent and how it relates directly to so much of the sorrow and suffering we’re all struggling with in this time in history. Until then. 


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