Criticize or praise?

I am a huge fan of praise. I love telling my colleagues, my kids, my friends, “Hey, great job.”

Last night at an opening night party (yes, I’m cool like that) for a new play, Unnatural Acts, at the Classic Stage Company, I saw Annika Boras, the actress who played Lady MacBeth there. I gushed, “You were so good.” And besides being brilliant — she’s beautiful and nice too! (It’s so great when that all comes together.)

I said, “Wow, great job. Love your work,” to Senator Chuck Schumer a month ago when I saw him at Jones Beach walking the boardwalk. http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/why-was-our-senator-at-the-beach-today/

Just because I love giving praise, doesn’t mean everyone does. Or that everyone should.

I probably don’t receive as much praise as I give to the people in my life, like my spouse — people with Parkinson’s Disease are not known for being effusive. I do praise myself and give myself some positive self-talk. “Wow! MB! You were incredibly productive and creative today!” Yes, I have been known to kiss the mirror. (“You look good, MB!”)

I wonder if I need need more than most in the affirmation department. I may just be cut from a cloth that likes to give and receive kind words, being one of five kids from a slightly (?) dysfunctional family.

You may say, “It’s fine to praise yourself, crazy lady, just don’t over-praise your kids. The way everyone receives a medal, even if they came in last or simply existed.” To you, I say, “What?! What am I supposed to do? Tell them ‘Win next time.’ I love my kids unconditionally. I do try and praise effort most of all, being a fan of hard work. But I tell them all the time that I love them and that they are awesome. So sue me! I overpraise!”

My kids are more brilliant, beautiful, and sweet, even than Lady MacBeth. Not that I’m comparing. (That’s the kiss of death — compare and despair!)

Several business articles lately have backed me up on my penchant for praise. Praise is important in the workplace, actually, more important than criticism.

http://www.inc.com/articles/201106/how-to-fast-forward-your-goals_pagen_3.html  I like the way this article acknowledges that we don’t achieve anything alone; all achievements are the result of collaboration. And we ought to acknowledge our collaborators.

How much praise do we need to hear? And why are we so good at correcting one another rather than praising them? The Harvard Business Review offers some insights: http://blogs.hbr.org/hill-lineback/2011/04/why-does-criticism-seem-more-e.html?cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-management_tip-_-tip062311&referral=00203

This is also what all the strengths-based learning is about. Lead with your strengths. Do what you’re good at it. To find what you’re good at, praise yourself. If that’s too weird, start by praising someone else and work your way back home.

Writing in a Community

I started a lunchtime writing group. The last time we met we wrote poems on fragments of Anne Sexton’s poetry. (Brilliant assignment, Tiffany!)

I cried a little as I wrote my piece. When it came my turn to read the poem out loud, I alerted the group, “I may cry when I read this. Don’t worry about me. Don’t hand me tissues. I am okay. I’m just having feelings.”

I read my piece out loud and two-thirds of the way in, I began sobbing. Literally sobbing, sniveling, gasping-for-breath crying. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to sob — especially in the middle of the workday and in front of coworkers. That is the time I like to joke around about Toddlers & Tiaras or take a walk in Riverside Park.

But there were things bubbling up in me. A sadness around the shifts and losses in my marriage, due to my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease.

Here’s the story: I cope really well. I work out. I write. I share my feelings. I lean on my friends. I feel alone. I love my kids. I love my job. I love my communities. But, at times, I feel and I am alone. And I am sad.

There was something healing about writing about and reading this piece to a writing group — a community of real people in real time and in a real place. We wrote together and then we listened to one another read.

Our meeting is simple. We rotate leaders. The leader picks a topic and then we write for 20 minutes. Then we go around and read what we’ve written. We have written about other things too — our childhoods and our rituals.

There is an alchemy to being a part of a community of real writers. The other day I wrote on my other blog What is Community? http://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/what-is-community/

It is hard work, passion and diversity. This lunch time writing group has and is all that. We meet again tomorrow at 12:30. Join us.

Resilience

My father had a motto, which I think he got from Woody Allen, “Showing up in uniform dressed to play is 99 percent of the game.” Sometimes finding the uniform is tough. But usually, I’m good to go. I show up. And that’s the best I can do. Like showing up to write in one of my blogs every day.

Every new year I vow to get organized, save money, and work out more. And in 2011, I promised myself I’d blog for 66 days and I’m almost there.

I remember a Physics lesson from college (although it was the only class where I got a D). A body in motion stays in motion. And so I stay in motion. I just keep playing, showing up to my life wearing my uniform. I keep going.

For me the tough part of being married to someone with Parkinson’s Disease is that there are times when he is not ready to play. He can’t find his uniform. He’s slow to the game. (I hesitate to ever complain one iota about his disease because yes, I know, it’s tough, yes, worse on him or anyone with a chronic or serious condition. And, hey, what am I complaining about?) But sometimes showing up means telling it like it is. And that’s the way it is tonight.

But tomorrow I’ll get up early. I’ll write in my journal. I’ll get dressed in my work clothes, my uniform. I’ll get ready to play. And I’ll help anyone that needs help. And I’ll try to remember to thank God that I’m on a team.