Last night Susan made one of my favorite dinners—tofu, salad, and celery sticks with peanut butter. C’mon, you know that was a joke, right? Actually, Susan made marinated steak with baked potatoes; I’m easy to keep happy. After dinner I said, “Thank you so much. That was a wonderful steak.” But I wasn’t happy.
Why wasn’t I happy? I didn’t quite know until, suddenly during the night, I awoke with the thrill I always get upon realizing that my soul has been working hard while I’ve been asleep. I knew what was worrying me.
It wasn’t my steak that was wonderful; it was my wife who was wonderful. The dinner I enjoyed was the result of my having a wonderful wife. Saying, “That was a wonderful steak,” was meaningless. Lying awake last night I realized that what I should have said was, “You are the most wonderful wife; thank you for making my favorite dinner again.”
I fell back asleep bothered by my failure. Sometimes I wish my soul wouldn’t work so hard.
Many of us do the same at home and work. “Thanks for such a comprehensive report,” is not nearly the same as, “You are the best assistant imaginable, nobody else could have created that report.”
Doug Conant, the CEO who, during the past ten years literally turned around the failing Campbell Soup Company, spends about an hour each business day writing personal notes thanking some employees and congratulating others for their achievements.
Now you already knew that people love getting praise. I utterly reject the notion that humans are merely the result of evolutionary biology, but it’s true that the brain chemical, dopamine which produces enjoyable feelings, is released when we receive praise. Still, who says that just because you enjoy praise, I am obliged to pander to you and provide it? Maybe you should just grow up and learn to live your life without praise.
Look at the great prophet Samuel’s life. It is clear that his main function was not foreseeing the future or prophesying but instead bringing peace by judging conflict and the normal disagreements that occur when normal human beings live and do business together.
And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
He did an annual circuit …and judged Israel in all those places.
He would return to Ramah where he lived and there he judged Israel…
(1 Samuel 7:15-17)
We see the same emphasis a few verses later when the people approach Samuel.
They (the Elders of Israel) said to him (Samuel)
‘You’re old and your sons do not walk in your ways,
now appoint us a king to judge us like other nations.
(I Samuel 8:5)
And this was terrible in Samuel’s eyes—
because they said ‘give us a king to judge us…’
(I Samuel 8:6)
Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that Samuel was deeply saddened because they were rejecting him in his own area of specialty, judging. Had the people said, “Give us a king to rule us” he wouldn’t have been nearly as upset. Samuel felt totally unappreciated. If the great Samuel needed recognition and God comforted him when he didn’t receive it, we too can freely acknowledge our own need. We must also acknowledge our obligation to recognize and praise others.
Here is the key. Giving people praise is not a nice thing; it is the moral thing. Recognition is part of a person’s dignity and is his or her right.
Yes, it is hard to praise another person, mainly because doing so implies making yourself a bit smaller. But humbling oneself is a powerful character builder and long-term success in both personal and professional life is often the reward of the strong character. There is no better character-building program than that which God built into His Message to mankind.
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