Me — Praise

Talking to a friend the other day, I was asked how I feel about receiving praise. From a creator’s standpoint, it certainly isn’t an uncommon thing. I work hard at what I do, pretty much regardless of what it is. If there is an expectation that I do something well, I hold myself to a personal standard of also trying to do it better than anyone else. I recognize that it isn’t always a possibility, but, narcissism aside, I receive praise on a regular basis.

From this, I’ve noticed a few things. There are several different types of praise, and whether or not we realize this I believe we all behave differently towards each version. I think the most common one is the fake kind. This is the pat on the back we receive after doing something regardless of the actual quality of whatever we did. The praise we give children for their bad drawings. The encouragement we give to people who failed their test. I actually don’t think of this as praise at all, but rather, simply encouragement. We don’t tell Timmy his dinosaur looks so real because we actually believe it, but because we want to reinforce his creative behavior by encouraging him. It’s a lie we tell people so they feel better about themselves, really. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t mean much.

The second kind is sort of a peripheral praise. The kind we don’t hear about ourselves. When we’re talking about a band we love or an awesome thing a friend did. Most often this is attributed to things we consider to be above us, like celebrities or people in our lives we revere. If a friend of mine developed a game that became insanely popular, suddenly he’s above me in the social status, and the praise I give him could easily reflect that. This is real praise, yes, but a lot of the time it can be exaggerated. Since this type is often referring to things bigger or better than us, it’ll make for a more interesting story if we nudge it further out of proportion. Yes that friend that made the cool game is still a friend, but suddenly “I always knew he’d be rich someday” and “I’m so lucky to have known such a genius” almost forgetting that he was and still very much is just a person.

Lastly, we have the purest and rarest form, which is the genuine and knowledgeable acknowledgement. This can only come from somebody that knows what they’re talking about, which is generally why it is the hardest to come by. When somebody compliments me on my short stories and tells me how well I write, that’s the first kind. But if a published author came and told me what he liked about my story, suddenly it means a lot more because that person knows what they’re talking about. I try to give out as much of this type as I can, but I may not be able to tell a friend accurately why this drawing looks so well done, I can only call attention to the fact that it looks good and point out the specific things I like about it. I don’t know enough about aesthetics and color schemes to be able to draw conclusions, but I can try. You don’t get this praise often because only people in the same line of work can really provide it, and even then you’ll have to earn that praise. They’re no longer complimenting you because you need encouragement. They’re praising you because you used the encouragement you got from the past to make something worth praising.

Now, I could have made this a Life post, but I think this works better as a Me post because this is simply what I’ve observed. There could be tons of psychology behind this that I don’t know about, or maybe somebody has already written out this sort of thing before. Maybe some psychologist has a list of “Branford’s Seven Types of Praise” or something official like that. I don’t know. This is just my perspective, and I don’t even think it would be that hard to refute some of my points. In fact I could probably refute them myself if I wanted to, but hey, most personal blogs aren’t about providing accurate evidence, so what motivation do I have to push towards the contrary?

All that being said, I don’t think people are given the third kind of praise very often. It’s the most validating type, but it can be very difficult to get. So my recommendation to you is the next time you want to tell somebody how they did, tell them why you like it.

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