Compliments, Praise and Insincerity

Pizza Man
I was reading through Cool Cat's great post on the fact, it seems, according to New York Times,  that college students these days would rather have a compliment than a pizza or... get this, sex.

Now, on the surface, I guess I do agree with Cool Cat about the boost we all need (whether as the educated or the educator) to our self-esteems... except that last night as I was heading off, sniffling (got the worst cold and cough ever) I started wondering...

The reason that Pizza is no longer a treat is that it's so accessible.

You can get a pizza anytime day or night.   You can buy them at the Supermarket.

I remember,  growing up in Antigua,  that there was only one Pizza place on the opposite side of the island and it was about a 45 mins drive away.  We had to beg and beg Daddy to take us there  - maybe he agreed around three times a year and once we got there and got out of the car, we ordered our very own pizzas and cokes...  Wow, it was all so incredibly tasty!    My mouth even still waters for that particular Pizza though truth be told that nowadays due to all the Carbs+Chemicals, I actually don't eat Pizza very often or even want to... but ah, that Pizza...

Except it's not the Pizza, is it?

It's the longing and the delay in getting what I wanted.

Like Cool Cat, I agree that cheap compliments aren't helpful and that kids can spot a fake however I really wasn't comfortable with her call to give out sincere compliments once every class period/ once a day to a colleague... because the very adding of a time to this makes it a task and not a spontaneous truism.

The point I guess I'm trying to make is that sincere praise takes time and energy and real thought.  It must mean something. Compliments shouldn't be abused and made smaller through frequency and over-indulgence.

They should, I reckon, be given out when they say in their subtexts:

I watched  you for a while you know and I noticed what you've done and how you improved; You know what, I saw you grow; I saw you change and how you have very much blossomed.  You made me proud; I learned from you.

Personally, in general, I'm just not a big fan of people who tell me how great I am, especially if they do this repeatedly, as inevitably (through hard-experience) I know that's what really happening is that they've read and made their bible: How To Win Friends and Influence People and now they've got some kind of warped mental database of standardized compliments which they pay to people - anyone at all - because, pretty much, they're just trying to get something from them.   

(And it works (80%?) of the time! )

How cynical is that?

Are we all suckers 
or is it that as we get older 
we lose the ability to spot fakes?! :-((.

Also, I tend to find... how do I say this, I tend to find that people who have been over-complimented  by parents/ school-friends and then, if having achieved any sort of postion in life (boss, actor, etc)... they can then wind up generally having a very displaced view of themselves, their importance in the world and they can/may use this self-view to abuse others they deem as lesser.   

Over-self-esteem is almost as bad as low self-esteem.

Anyway, I'll wrap this post up by saying that I do hope we don't make the next generation of students cynical of compliments by praising them too much, too often, too insincerely only because this sort of research may leave us feeling that we're not good teachers if we don't do it often enough.

I really hope we can be balanced, as some things in life, in my opinion, really should remain worth working for.

Worth desiring.

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7 Responses to “Compliments, Praise and Insincerity”

  • Barbara Sakamoto says:
    January 19, 2011

    Interesting to see how small town Oregon isn't all that different from exotic (to me!) Antigua. We got our first pizza parlor--with Pong built into the tables!--during my senior year of high school. Felt very big-time when we got a movie theater the same year!

    In terms of praise, I think perhaps there's a difference between the frequent affirmation that a student is a good person worth liking, and the praise for accomplishing something worth crediting. The first, in my opinion, is something students need often--in actions even more than words. The second should recognize students' efforts for something that actually was a challenge for them.

    When we first moved back to the US my daughter was 12. She was a bit mystified by all the praise. She came home one day after a "recognition day" with a pile of certificates for various accomplishments--more on that one day than she'd received in 6 years of school in Japan!

    Her friends were surprised when She told them that she'd never received a sticker for doing her homework before. "What did you get for doing your homework, then?" they asked. "I passed the test," she answered :-)

  • David Warr says:
    January 19, 2011

    Brilliant! Amazing!! Awesome post!!!

    January 19, 2011

    David... David... you know what, you are the greatest commenter, ever. :-)

    Barbara, thanks, I was giggling when I read about your daughter's retort - it's not the stickers, it's the work along the way :-) and agree, affirmation is important but let's save the praise for moments of overcoming real hurdles...

  • Vicki A. Davis says:
    January 20, 2011

    Nice post. Now, I am a fan of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" but in the book it talks about "honest, sincere, praise" and has a whole chapter on that.

    I used to agree with you on this - that it becomes a task, but I've been reading another great book by Joyce Meyers called power thoughts where she challenges us to do one thoughtful thing a day for another.

    At first I thought - oh this would be a "task" but no - it is a lifechanging way of life that energizes and amazes you! We as humans have an amazing capacity to be kind to others.

    No, don't compliment as a "task" but I do think that every once in a while it is incredibly useful to focus on something where we need improvement (like SINCERE compliments).

    I would say that if a teacher can't give a SINCERE, GENUINE compliment once a period he/she isn't looking hard enough! It can be done and can be done sincerely.

    As for the fake flatterers - I'm with you - they can keep their compliments they don't mean a doggone thing.

  • Anonymous says:
    January 20, 2011

    Hi Karenne
    Very thought-provoking post. Leads on to all those things that have crept in to schools lately - no competitive sport because it makes the losers feel bad; no telling a pupil that they are wrong or have made a mistake; no reprimanding or shows of disappointment. What happens to these people when the real world deals the blow of realising that you CAN lose, you CAN be wrong, mistakes are USEFUL and disappointing people and being disappointed is part of life? and that getting merits and stars and smilies does not happen just because you showed up? Giving sincere, truthful, realistic feedback is a great skill and I think one that everyone would do well to learn.

    January 20, 2011

    That's a really excellent viewpoint, Vicki (Cool Cat - by the way, I knew your name, I just love your handle!) and to be honest, I guess that's why I was hmm...hmmming and kept thinking about your post and ending up writing. I agree with you, you see, and find myself complimenting and supporting students all the time but there are moments in the class (I teach adults) when one of them does something that really touches me deeply - last week one of my students suggested we use wordle for a summarizing activity and I was completely floored and gasped as I said "Ingenious!" and he flushed with pleasure - there's something in the spontanetity... I dunno, I think I'm not really getting down to the nitty gritty of what I mean even my example is weak... but I can say this, thank you for your blog post because it really has made me think and will check out Meyers' book.


    January 20, 2011

    Ah, Candy, I think between you and Barb's comments I'm getting closer to how I feel about this when it comes to students : yes, life is hard and yes life sometimes is frightfully disappointing and sometimes we work really hard at something and we don't get the grade/the job/ the whatever it was we wanted and even when people tell us how good we did, it wasn't enough... and yes, school/college/Uni is one of the places where we get to learn that sometime there are things we want and we won't ever have them, even if we maintain a positive outlook and be good and work hard - sometimes the "b*strds" will drag us down! :-(

    BUT! BUT! BUT!

    The other side of all of this is that it is, I believe, ah-ha, I am getting warmer to my thoughts - wow, Vicki has made me do lots of self-reflection - incredibly useful to have failure, to make mistakes, to be hurt, to be disappointed in life: sometimes what we do with that becomes our finest hour! And we shouldn't take that amazing experience away from our students by not pushing them to want for excellence.

    Thanks so much for helping me sort through this!!



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