New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto o...

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; added by those for whom prayer or miracles were granted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, one of my colleagues gave an inspired speech about appreciation.  He defined appreciation as the act of thanking someone for a job well done, not as vain flattery, but as a sincere acknowledgment of that person’s hard work.  Indeed, he pointed out how rarely one is acknowledged for going above and beyond, although I must say that in my experience, “management” is begun to acknowledge employees.  Problem is, it is a form of blanket acknowledgment, rather than sincere recognition of those employees who go above and beyond.  In my company, there are so many employees that perhaps that would be an insurmountable task, to not only be able to monitor each and every employee, but also to then make that employee feel special.  So, our company has instituted various games and contests, with the winning contestant earning gift cards of various denominations, or other more valuable gifts.

As my colleague explained, recognition of a job well done is a gift.  It is a gift when given freely and sincerely.  And sincerity is felt, as is flattery.  Flattery does not feel genuine, and therefore does not feel good; in fact, it may actually feel demeaning if one gets the impression that he or she is being mocked.  But sincere acknowledgment is also felt.  The words used, the way they are used, the body language, and the situation for which they are used are all underpinnings of what winds up feeling genuine, deserved and ultimately good.

I love being acknowledged for a job well done.  For example, when I come across a discrepancy, and bring it to the attention of my supervisor, it would really feel great if the supervisor pointed out, “Gee, that was a good catch!” 

Sincere appreciation is akin to gratitude, about which I have written previously.  With gratitude, one feels thankful for one’s gifts, for the opportunities and situations, for the personal characteristics, for one’s strengths — even for one’s weaknesses, as a source of learning.  Where gratitude is internal, appreciation is a gift we give another.  So, without being phony, do spend some energy acknowledging the people around you. 

There seems to be a prevalent attitude that compliments might go to a person’s head.  What is meant by that is that saying something good about that person would render him or her insufferably obnoxious, with an attitude of haughty superiority.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Neurolinguistic programming suggests that the words we use affect our attitudes, and therefore, our behavior.  And our behavior affects our moods and attitudes.  Tell a child to sit in the back of the class because he doesn’t participate well, and is distracting, is a sure way to ensure that the child behaves according to that pronouncement.  The opposite is also true: that success breeds success.  And “success” can be translated to acknowledgment, gratitude, or anything that will encourage the recipient to continue to act in the direction of the words just pronounced.  Look into your own lives; recall times when you have been admonished and criticized, and times when you have been adulated.  Then, extrapolate and recall how you felt, and what you were moved to do next.  I can assure you that being complimented made you want more of the same.  And vice versa.

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This is a topic explored by many philosophers through the ages.  In an anonymous article, the author explores whether it is possible to teach virtue.  I proposes that virtue can be taught, but the person being so taught must want to be taught, and must then act virtuously.  Virtue is the quality of being able to discern right from wrong.  But “right” from “wrong” is influenced and shaped, indeed, defined, by societal standards, as well as the times in which one lives.  In the West, issues of right and wrong are rooted in the Ten Commandments. However, Buddhism is not a monotheistic religion; it does not teach that there is one almighty God who has handed down rules for living; but rather teaches the Five Precepts: Anger (or violence, or more specifically, avoiding killing or harming other living things), Greed (or more specifically, avoiding stealing), Lust (or more specifically, avoiding sexual misconduct), Delusion (or more specifically, to avoid lying, and avoiding consuming intoxicating items.  Any thought, speech or action that is rooted in these precepts leads us away from Nirvana (bliss, enlightenment), and any thought, speech or action that involves love, giving and wisdom leads us closer to Nirvana.  In god-centered religions, to know right from wrong, one has only to do what he is told; but in human-centered religions, like Buddhism, one has to develop a deep sense of self-awareness.  Morality that is based on self-understanding is much more powerful than that which is based on command.  For example, being the target of mockery is an unpleasant and painful experience.  Knowing that, one would guard against inflicting that type of pain on another; making fun and ridiculing another would be considered doing “wrong” to another, because it would cause pain and embarrassment.  To know right from wrong in Buddhism, one would look at the intention of the act, the effect it might have on another person, and the effect it would have on oneself.  Cheating in marriage, for example, might very well lead to a dissolution of the marriage.  However, taken within this premise, what is the intention of the cheating spouse? Even if he or she claims “it just happened,” being a conscious human being precludes any such excuse.  What is the effect on the other person?  Even if the other person at first does not realize the situation, clearly, such behavior on the part of the cheating partner creates a duplicitous behavior at home, and such duplicity cannot be avoided.  The effect on the cheating spouse is also grave: It takes great energy to lie, maintain the lie, support it with various alibis, try to maintain a neutral face at home, while giving generously of one’s love and devotion to two lovers.  In other words, if my intentions are good (rooted in love, giving and wisdom), then my deeds and actions are wholesome and moral.

Still, it might be worth asking whether there are some universal standards of right and wrong.  Consider that during the Crusades, it was right to smite so-called nonbelievers in the one true church.  And smite they did, with what we now consider horrible methods, including torture, to induce suspected heretics to confess their sins.  We no longer subscribe to these methods — or do we?  Have we not resorted to torture at Abu Ghraib, Iraq?  Do we not resort to torture when we water-board a suspect?