Two metaphors have guided much of my thinking and writing in recent years: being cups of light to each other, and fanning the embers in each other’s souls back into life.
Following up on Ronald Rolheiser’s words on wisdom and empathy in last week’s column, I’d like to revisit my Aug. 8, 2018 column on the noted spirituality writer’s thoughts on the power of praise and compliments as expressions of such soul-affirming empathy-based wisdom. The title of that column, by the way, was “Well-deserved compliments are Cups of Light for the soul.”
“WE DON’T LIVE ON bread alone. Jesus told us that. Our soul too needs to be fed and its food is affirmation, recognition, and blessing. Every one of us needs to be healthily affirmed when we do something well so as to have resources within us with which to affirm others. We can’t give what we haven’t got! That’s self-evident. And so for us to love and affirm others we must first be loved, first be blessed, and first be praised. Praise, recognition, and blessing build up the soul.
“But complimenting others isn’t just important for the person receiving the compliment, it’s equally important for the person giving it. In praising someone we give him or her some needed food for their soul; but, in doing this, we also feed our own soul. There’s a truth about philanthropy that holds true too for the soul: We need to give to others not just because they need it but because we cannot be healthy unless we are giving ourselves away. Healthy admiration is a philanthropy of the soul.”
Ron understands us as emulators of God’s creative breath. “When we praise someone else then, like God creating, we are breathing life into a person, breathing spirit into them,” he says. “Our willingness to praise others is a sign of maturity, and vice versa. We become more mature by being generous in our praise.”
There are roadblocks, of course, such as disappointments, frustrations, cynicism, and fear of feeding another’s ego, Ron says. “However, more often than not, our real reason for withholding praise is that fact that we ourselves have been insufficiently praised and, because of that, harbor jealousies and lack the strength to praise others.”
About fearing that “if we offer praise it will go to that person’s head,” Ron says: “More often than not, that’s a rationalization. Legitimate praise never spoils a person. Praise that’s honest and proper works more at humbling its recipient than spoiling him or her. We can’t be loved too much, only loved wrongly.”
Mature love distinguishes “between praising those areas of another’s life that are praiseworthy and challenging those areas of another’s life that need correction.” Praise must not be confused with flattery.
“Genuine praise is never wrong. It simply acknowledges the truth that’s there. That’s a moral imperative. Love requires it. Refusing to admire when someone or something merits praise is … a negligence, a fault, a selfishness, a pettiness, and a lack of maturity. Conversely, paying a compliment when one is due is a virtue and a sign of maturity.”
Thanks again, Ron, for your wise words. They have once again fanned the embers of my soul and served me cups of light for the journey. A toast in praise of praise!