I can live for two months on a good compliment – Mark Twain
Life can be disheartening. Things go wrong, people do wrong, we ourselves do wrong. Our best laid-plans can be wrecked by one massive upheaval or thwarted by a million tiny bumps. Either way, we end up feeling like giving up. Amidst such discouragement that may come upon us from a hundred directions, a few words of encouragement can be a vital morale-booster.
There are many shortages in the world, and most of them are not immediately in our power to rectify. We can’t do much about Somalia’s food shortage, Siberia’s power shortage or the Sahara’s water shortage. But there’s one shortage we all can rectify: appreciation shortage.
Lack of appreciation can hurt as much as can lack of food. Absence of appreciation can kill people emotionally, making them feel as if they have nothing to live for. And without something worthwhile to live for, they may give up on the will to live. Indeed, people commit suicide not so much because many things go wrong in their life, but because prior to those things going wrong, they felt unloved, unvalued, unappreciated. And when negative events pile on top of their negative feelings, their will to live gets crushed out of their hearts. That’s why appreciation can be literally life-saving. Complimentary words can give those contemplating suicide a reason to live. And if they keep living, they will soon find many more reasons to live.
When someone passes away, at their memorial meeting, their acquaintances speak appreciatively about the deceased person, and often speak so movingly that it brings tears to the hearers’ eyes. And yet those acquaintances don’t speak even a fraction of those appreciative words when that person was alive. If they had appreciated earlier, that person would have felt so much more loved, affirmed, treasured. Why should we appreciate people only after they have passed on? Why not start appreciating right now?
Though compliments can do so much good, we are often miserly in complimenting. Why? We may fear that over-appreciation may breed complacency. If we are always appreciative, people may get too habituated to compliments, may become over-expectant and may take our words and by extension us cheaply. That’s a valid concern. Sociologists refer to the post-World War II generation in the West as the praised generation – these were pampered children who were always complimented, never corrected. They grew up to become arrogant and insecure: too proud to take criticism and too emotionally dependent on praise.
We can and should give others constructive feedback when necessary and appropriate. But why should correction be the only thing we offer? Why can’t we offer both corrections and compliments? Better still, why can’t we offer compliments generously and corrections cautiously?
If we interact with others only to correct them, then our relationship with them becomes unpleasant, and people start avoiding us. And whenever they can’t avoid us, they dread the inevitable interactions, and that dread blocks their capacity to function effectively. We can remove much of this negativity by infusing our interactions with the positive power of appreciation.
The Bhagavad-gita (17.15) recommends that we speak in a non-agitating way that is truthful, pleasing and beneficial. The recommendation that we speak both pleasingly and truthfully implies that we should appreciate, but not flatter. Flatterers usually aim to manipulate, to get the other person to do their bidding. In contrast, appreciators value people for what they are and inspire them to become better.
If we compare the human body to a vehicle, food is its fuel. If we extend the vehicular metaphor to the human heart, encouragement is the fuel for the heart. Whereas the body dies without food, the heart dries without encouragement, making life feel pointless, joyless, worthless. Just as a well-fed body can function energetically, a heart fueled by encouragement can function energetically, infusing life with purpose, verve and joy.