Column: Choosing Praise

By Icy Frantz

It’s early and our puppy is awake and eager to start his day which means it is time to start my day too. We have fallen into a routine. I let him out. I feed him and then we play. It’s quiet, just the two of us. Our older dog isn’t up yet (let sleeping dogs lie) and the rest of the house is still, summer hours. We play some fetch. Sailor, the name our daughter gave “her” dog, has gotten quite good and it’s going well until he encounters a bone, left behind in the grass in our backyard. He pauses. I can almost hear his thinking.

“Bone or ball? Maybe I can make room for both.” He tries. He fails. He is confused. Eventually, he drops the ball and chooses the bone, lays down and enjoys it. Game over.

Choices. We make 100’s of choices every day. Some are small, some are big, some are conscious and some are not. Sometimes, we win no matter what choice we make like the bone/ball choice. Sometimes the choices we need to make are harder with greater risk and reward involved. They might impact our lives and determine our future or simply establish the general course of our day. But the choices I want to discuss in this piece are the ones that have to do with the way we treat one another; friends, family, colleagues and adversaries. Improving on these choices will lead to a more civil and courteous community.

Last month George Will gave the address at the Princeton Baccalaureate. It’s worth googling. His message is good. He spoke about the importance of rejoicing in praise, a choice that in today’s society is often surpassed by the choice to be snarky and critical.

He said:

In this age of rage, disparagement is the default setting for many Americans. They seem to think that expressing admiration for someone or something is evidence of deficient critical faculties. To these disparagers, maturity means a relentlessly exercised capacity for contempt. Intelligent praising is a talent. It is learned. Like all virtues, it is habitual. And it is a virtue we need more of, right now. It is the virtue of recognizing virtue and saluting it.

He is right and sadly we have too much of what George Will calls the antitheses of Praise, anger. We see it in the news and on social media, we feel it on our roads and in our conversations. It’s just plain easier and lazy to give in to it and join it. It can feel almost addictive. It’s exhausting. And sometimes it is childish, insulting and unproductive. What would our life look like if we made the choice to praise rather than to condemn?

I was driving our daughter to lacrosse last week. Usually, I am a fairly respectful driver erring on the side of kindness, but on this particular day, with school just out, I was literally living in my car and stuck in all sorts of traffic. I was crabby. I got stuck behind a driver going excruciatingly slow. Or at least that’s the way it felt. It was grating on my nerves and getting my daughter to practice on time was urgent, at least in my little mind. Frustrated, I hit the steering wheel with my hand. I was driving too close. Errr.

“Mom, It’s ok. We are going to get there. And if I am running a little behind it won’t be the end of the world.”

Of course, she was right. Pulling out on the Post road, we passed the slow car, only to realize that we knew the driver, well. Oops.

The consequence of my choice to condemn the driver is that I felt badly all night. I felt badly that my daughter watched me lose my cool (of course it wasn’t the first time) and I felt badly that I had reacted in such a way. We are all neighbors.

This is all much easier said than done. Like my driving snafu, sometimes we simply react and that may be. But with practice, we can learn to let anger subside and lean into praise. My early mornings with Sailor have taught me that what may be tricky at first can ease gently into a routine. We are both getting the hang of it. Maybe choosing praise over anger can become routine as well.

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons is of a dog with a perplexed look on his face saying;

“Good Dog. Good Dog. Good Dog. Why isn’t it ever great dog?”

With this image in my mind, let’s all have a great fourth of July.

Let’s celebrate this cherished holiday, awash with red, white and blue, hotdogs (150 million to be exact), parades and fireworks.  let’s applaud the great accomplishment from 1776 that gave us freedom, unity and independence. How lucky we are to wake up (no matter how early) in this beautiful country.

America America
God shed his grace on thee
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

And let’s praise the fact that so many of us have the ability to choose because some great patriots many years ago made the choice to fight for our freedom.

Let’s choose to honor our country, the foundation on which it is built and its people.

No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, or no matter what speed you drive, let’s choose to look for the good, maybe even the great, and choose to leave the anger and the contempt at the door. Then go for the bone.

And lay down and enjoy it.

Happy 4th of July!!!!