Giving & Receiving Praise
by Esther Shuker
Chag Sameach ladies!
When I chose to speak about Praise, little did I know how appropriate a subject it would be as we welcome into the community the precious new Baby Hackenbroch, whose name – Tehilla – means exactly that!
We hope that all the Divrei Torah she hears today, even subliminally, will form a foundation for her future life within the wonderful Hackenbroch family.
I have a confession to make… I LOVE former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The good news is that my husband is well aware of it… and he loves him too.
In a recent commentary on Tazria & Metzora, Rabbi Sacks writes about praise with particular emphasis on couples on the verge of getting married, but which could be applicable to us all.
Such couples come to him seeking advice on making a strong marriage. His suggestion is beautifully simple and transformative: He asks that once a day, every day, they praise each other for something each one has done that day. It can be something small – a kind word, a gesture, a thoughtful deed but it must be genuine. Each partner must learn to accept the praise. It sounds easy… let’s try it and report back next year!
R. Sacks explains how he came up with this idea:
He spoke of a Speech Therapist, Lena Rustin, whose speciality was assisting children who stammered. Her approach was innovative and the results had a knock-on effect for the entire family. Rather than just focusing on the child’s breathing and speaking techniques, she took a holistic viewpoint and looked at the whole family set up. Why? Within a family, when a child stammers, the whole family adjusts their behaviour to that child. Lena concluded that in order for the child to change, to stop stammering, the entire family group must adapt their relationships. This is a huge undertaking because people like habits and develop patterns of behaviour that become familiar, comfortable… Where am I going with this? What Lena discovered was that such a change in behaviour could be achieved through praise – it is unthreatening and positive.
Instead of ‘catching’ each other doing something wrong, they had to catch each other doing something right, something good, and enunciate it.. Therefore, the whole family had to learn to give and receive praise. This not only created a feeling of mutual respect but generated self-confidence and safety in everyone.
When R. Sacks spoke to people who had worked with Lena, some said her method had saved not just the child, but the parents’ marriage.
When we praise someone, we feel good. We feel more love and appreciation. Therefore, when we praise our spouse, we come to love our spouse more. It feels great to give praise … almost more than receiving it. Praising our spouse reminds us that the person we share life with is wonderful in his or her own way.
Rambam says that praising God is part of the mitzvah of loving Him … we can extrapolate from there that the same applies to our spouse.
The parshiot of Tazria/Metzora deal with Tsara’at, or leprosy, which was said to arise from speaking Lashon Hara – gossip or derogatory speech. Lena’s method of praise focused on the opposite: Lashon hatov – positive and encouraging speech.
Gossip is so delicious, so enticing … who can resist joining in when it’s going on? Praise, on the other hand, is something that needs effort… We find it so easy to stoke the fire of gossip, we can always find something unkind or demeaning to contribute to a conversation about an unassuming victim, but to seek traits, behaviour or deeds to praise in someone can at times be challenging….
The psychologist Carol Dweck, wrote that bad speech diminishes us and good speech can lift us to great heights. We see it ourselves. When we join in with lashon hara, we tend to feel somewhat sullied, tarnished, low, but when we compliment someone, both they and we feel taller, happier, stronger.. I notice it especially with children.
Regarding children, Rabbi Akiva Tatz always speaks about praising their deeds, their middot, character traits, not how well they do in exams. Effort should be praised; not just natural gifts.
In our religion from the moment we awaken we are fortunate to have opportunities to praise Hashem - for returning our soul to us and granting us another day, for our sight, for our body functioning as it should, how to behave correctly with others, to respect our parents, to be grateful for the food we eat, and so on.
There are also blessings we say over natural phenomena… we praise God for the blossom on the trees, we praise Him for thunder, lightning, when we see exceptionally beautiful people, holy people, even people who look odd.
In life, I think women especially have difficulty accepting praise, even from those closest, perhaps especially from those closest. This does not come across well … If we think of the person giving the compliment, it might have taken a lot of effort, courage to say something and by brushing them aside, we are actually being hurtful and denigrating them.
We can try to be humble, that is a wonderful middah, but it should not be false humility… if you are being praised for something you do or did well, then it is warranted. Learn to accept it graciously with a thank you or a smile… The power of a smile is a shiur in itself.
There is a beautiful story of Dayan Abramski, the ex-Head of the London Beit Din. In a particular case the judge questioned him: ‘Is it true you are of great intellect?’ The Dayan responded ‘Yes’. ‘Asked the Judge ‘should one not be humble?’ ‘I am under oath’ was the response!
So, perhaps the bottom line is that learning to receive praise is a worthy exercise, one that can have many positive ramifications in our lives.
You have been such good listeners - Thank you! Chag sameach.