Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Hidden Purpose of Praise

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by
the praise he receives. Proverbs 27.:21


I always thought praise was supposed to make me feel good; stroke my
ego; boost my self-esteem. Test me? "Tests, I don't need no stinkin
tests". (apologies to Bogey and the cast of Treasure of the Sierra
Madre).  Praise is designed to make me feel appreciated and loved.
It supposed to be a form of positive reinforcement to help propel me
to step up my game, try harder and stretch myself to new limits. It is
all of these, and one I had never considered.

Praise a test? I don't particularly like taking tests so can I drop
that element from the equation? Can I keep the warm and fuzzy parts
and skip the heat? Apparently not.

Praise is likened to a crucible or a furnace. The purpose of these is
to refine the silver and gold in order to remove the dross and
impurities. This involves fire and intense heat. It does not
sound like an open book test but more like the final exam for a brain
surgeon. It seems like there is a high probability that at worst this
will hurt at and at least be very uncomfortable.

So, how is something that is supposed to make me feel good end up
being a trial by fire? Praise has a way of revealing what is really in
my heart. This is not a bad thing. The fire of the refining process
does not destroy the precious metal, it removes any contaminants.

Let's supposed (and this is a stretch) that Little Mary works really
hard all year at her studies and at the end of the year she is named
the "Student of the Year for Academic Excellence". Her teacher applauds
her for the hard work that resulted in achieving this goal, and
rightfully so. This is not a fluke or a lucky break. This is a well
deserved honor that was earned with much effort and sacrifice on her part.

Little Mary is thrilled. She is enjoying the fruit of her labor.
Perhaps, winning this title was a goal worth working for, and was
really a dream of accomplishing considering her competition. Now
the impossible has become reality and Little Mary is overcome with joy
and sheer satisfaction in a job well done. If we could freeze frame
this segment of her life, Little Mary has avoided the test of praise.

Life does not exist in a state of suspended animation and now Little
Mary has an opportunity to enter the testing phase. She comes home
from school and shares the good news with family and friends. Her
parents are elated. Her siblings and friends are happy for her.
After the initial excitement dies down, everyone goes back to life as
usual, except Little Mary.

Having tasted center stage, Little Mary may be tempted to stay put in
the fading limelight. She is a star, after all; a bit higher than
everyone else; the new standard to be measured by. Her whole
perspective of those around her is changing. Now she is on a different
level; a cut above the rest; a legend in her own mind and heading for
a fall. It is true she earned the honor and recognition that she
received. It was an acknowledgement of her achievement. However, it
was not an endorsement of her superiority as person over everyone
else. The fiery test of praise is bringing to the surface not so
nice ideas and opinions that she has deep in her heart. Little Mary is
a very proud person and pride is the forerunner to a downfall.

Little Mary has probably noticed a shift in the attitude of those
around her. They seem to avoid the subject of her great triumph. "They
are just jealous," she tells herself. "They wish they were me." Little
Mary is so convinced that she is so much better that she starts to slack
off in her work habits. She doesn't need to work as hard as "everyone
else" because she is "special". She is quick to let everyone know
this. She is blind to the look of annoyance and contempt in the eyes
of those around her. She thinks the gulf that is growing between
her and others is the result of their inability to come up to her

One day, the unthinkable happens. The awards are handed out and Little
Mary not only does not win, she is not even in the running. The
pedestal she has set up for herself has been knocked out from under
her feet and a new reality dawns - she is no different than anyone
else. And it hurts. It is like going through a fiery furnace and
getting cooked.

Does this mean that praise is wrong? Absolutely not. Praising someone
is a way of validating them (providing that it was genuine praise and
not flattery which is a quick trip to the blast furnace). It is
important to be able to receive recognition and accept and appreciate
it. The problem is when we get out of balance. On one hand, like
Little Mary, we can develop a higher opinion of ourselves than is
warranted. And on the other hand, deflection of any positive affirmations
can be an attempt to manipulate other to affirm us even more. Both
extreme ends of the scale are pride.

The next time someone pays you a compliment, gives you a pat on the
back, and acknowledges the great job you!!!! Just kidding.
Instead, let the sound of your local Emergency Broadcast System
run through your mind. BEEEEEEEP, This is a test of the Inflated Ego
Meter. This can be a real emergency. Please stay tuned to the
condition of your heart of hearts and the voices in your head that are
telling you how great you are. Failure to do this could result in a
trip through the blast furnace. BEEEEEEEEEEP.


  1. Wow! The hidden purpose of praise is not so hidden after reading your blog. Again, I say Wow! and how true.

  2. What a pretty little trap praise has set for us...I think I'm seeing a pattern in my own life.