Thoughts & Things

The appetite for applause

June 13, 2020

People who are open to criticism happens to be a minority. Most people do not like to hear about their shortcomings or failures and we have an infinite appetite for applause.  We will perhaps be able to manage most of our relationships well if we knew this human weakness well.  Why we have an obsession for compliments and why it takes an effort to cultivate a mind which accepts criticism? Why so many people do not understand that the only way to grow up is to remain receptive to criticism and correction.     

We like to be praised

More than wealth, power or almost anything else,  human beings crave approval from others. If one is offered all wealth and comforts but none around to see and appreciate that, he is unlikely to opt for it.  In fact, for so many people the very objective of acquiring wealth and power is to attract the approval of others.  Praise uplifts us more than anything else.  The young ones of the human species perhaps enjoy the longest period of pampering and the easiest language which all children understand is the language of approval and appreciation.  

While liberal appreciation act as a stimulant in our childhood and a moderate amount of appreciation help in all walks of life,  the problem comes when we are unable to come out of an obsession for compliments from others for whatever we do. Irrespective of the quality of work, people seek approval.  So many people find it difficult to lead a normal life without being pampered.  They want their skills and talents to be glorified always.  In order to make life easy, many people prefer to surround themselves with people who are always ready to offer their praises very lavishly. Sycophancy is a word much popular in our culture. A leader surrounds himself with people who will shower lavish praises on him and keep him elated always.

We are rarely the best critics of ourselves and often we tend to overrate ourselves. That being the case,  imagine the situation when you are surrounded by people who are keen only to praise you lavishly even if you don’t deserve it.  Knowing your weakness for unlimited praise such people are ready to pamper, expecting something in return from you.  Once anyone gets used to such an insane level of appreciation,  swallowing even minimum disapproval becomes extremely difficult.  

This attachment to praise is almost universal. Whether in academics or in entertainment or any other field we have people who can never relish a word of criticism.  The like button of Facebook is perhaps the best indication of the extent to which we love to be liked by others. There are people who derive much pleasure from the number of likes they receive. It does not matter whether those who press the ‘like’ button really understand either your work or yourself.  It is very curious that while a like button is provided we have nothing to show a dislike except engaging the person directly.   So it is taken for granted that everyone can freely offer a like and there are people who get terribly upset when they don’t receive as many likes as they would have expected.  In fact, social media especially was a great boon for people who are obsessed with all sorts of instant gratification.  

 In fact, social media platforms have a tendency to form groups which clap each other. In such groups, there may be none who dislike or criticise what the other person says and in no time it becomes an echo chamber of likeminded people where none corrects or challenge the other in the group. 

The only way to grow up

  Is life only to be lived amidst a continuous clap? How does it help us to grow and correct ourselves? The only way to grow is by continuously improving ourselves and one of the most reliable resources to do that is to have some good critics around you.   How do we know the quality of something we have done? How do we benchmark ourselves against the best around? One thumb rule is that it always takes someone other than us to point out our faults and evaluate our work.  This is because very few people can be a critic of themselves. The renowned Physicist Richard Feynman told once,

“The principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”  

So it boils down to this. We need someone to tell us our faults.   It takes a rare courage to subject ourselves to an independent scrutiny. When we look back we will realise that most of the time it was our critics who helped us to grow and overcome our inhibitions.  Even if you forget all praises offered to you,  you will never forget that one stinging criticism of your work.  One sure sign of maturity is your openness to criticism and your best friend is the one who offers a constructive criticism rather than blind praise.  How many such friends do we have?  

To always live in praise is to perpetually remain a child. There is a saying thatif you are the smartest person in the room, then you are perhaps in the wrong room”. The best in us comes out when we are challenged.  Give great value to the praise from those who are better than you. But give due regards to criticism from all, irrespective of the stature.  Allow your work and views to be torn apart by people around you. If it has the quality, it will survive. Otherwise, allow it to fall and you will learn from that.  Whenever you form a team make sure that it consists of someone who has absolute freedom to criticise and correct you. When it comes to marital relationships, or in friendships or at workplaces, have the freedom to tell each other what you don’t like in other without affecting personal bonds. That experience can be transformative.

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  • Reply
    Fr. Jijo
    June 13, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Well written Bobby…
    Your writings remind of CEM Joad, Bertrand Russel and the like.
    Philosophically compact and deep into the details…..

    If you fly on claps, you will just be an ordinary person, if you want to be extraordinary, walk with those who disagree, right?
    I just hope that those who show us our mistakes do it lovingly. It is a pain to deal with, if our mistakes are pointed out in public.

    • Reply
      Boby George
      June 21, 2020 at 12:32 pm

      Thank you, Father. You are absolutely right, walk with those who disagree. There is no better way to grow.

  • Reply
    June 21, 2020 at 8:47 am

    Bobby, thank you for your thoughtful reflection on the “appetite for applause.” Especially pointing out, the excessive desire we have for applause, and the micro -reward we crave through the social media.

    I wonder if not the appetite for applause becoming an addictive behavior. Gerald May, an American Psychiatrist, and Theologian explain addiction as “any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire.”

    Many studies have pointed out that each little encouragement we receive helps release dopamine to the brain, so the more and more applause one receives, one gets hooked to reward -pleasure motives. It is instant gratification, at the same time when one receives no response, they get instantly disappointed.

    As you pointed our “More than wealth, power or almost anything else, human beings crave approval from others.” or in other words, there is a universal desire to seek affirmation and love. St. Augustine pointed out that “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” And I believe that the more we understand how we enslave ourselves to fill our restless hearts (name whatever that may be.), the more we may be able to turn in the direction of true freedom and love. Karl Rahner pointed out that when we are in touch with our authentic selves, we are in touch with God. And I wonder won’t this touch with self and God gives us the grace to appreciate praise and criticism equally.

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