Thursday, May 16, 2013

Praise and Self Improvement

Praise , especially when given to kids is pretty problematic. The problem is not too much or too little praise , but praise itself.
It is by nature judgmental, kids tend to ascribe the reason why they do things is because of the praise and so lose interest in wht they are doing and do less. It gets in the way of internal feelings of pride and appreciating the intrinsic reward in doing things. It may give us a good feeling that lasts for 2 minutes, but as OBJECTS of praise we lose the ability of a SUBJECT  to reflect and think.

The Medrash commentary Ruth Rabah 5:6 discusses the noteworthy acts of the Biblical characters Boaz, Aaron, Reu'vein ( Ruben) .  The Bible records how Reu'vein saved his brother Joseph by taking him out of the pit and then suggested that the brothers, who saw Joseph as a threat to their membership of Jacob's family and destiny, put Joseph's fate in the hands of God rather than letting him die. Joseph was subsequently sold as a slave. Medrash criticizes Reu'vein and says that if he had known that his good deed would have been recorded for eternity in the Bible  , he would have been more thoughtful and returned Joseph to his father.
 The Bible recalls how Moses (Moshe) refused to take the leadership role of the children of Israel  in Egypt as  this promotion would be at the expense of his older brother Aaron. God tells Moses that his brother is on his way to meet him and in his heart he is not jealous but very happy for his brother. Again the Medrash is critical. If Aaron would have known that his good deed and attitude would be recorded for eternity in the Bible, he would have gone to meet the new leader with drums and dancing. This was not a family issue with Aaron the older brother happy and supportive of his younger brother's promotion ahead of him. It was a national issue .He was going to meet the new leader and future redeemer of the children of Israel in Egypt. It demanded a more public response.
 In the book of Ruth ,Boaz  the greatest sage and leader of the people of Israel shows kindness to Ruth, a Moabite who had converted to Judaism.  He invited her to sit at his table and eat with him. The Medrash is critical. If he had known that his act would be recorded in the Bible , he would made a festive meal for Ruth. Ruth was destined to become the great grandmother of King David.

The problem of praise is that it gets in the way of reflection. If people praise us, at most we can enjoy the good feeling , but as objects of praise it is difficult to become a subject and reflect how we could have done a better job and make our actions more complete and perfect. Instead of praise we can ask questions or just describe what we have seen. These great people managed to treat 'praise' they received as mere information and thus they were able to reflect how they could have done better. 

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