‘Look. Dad look.’ A. said with a five-year-olds sense of immediacy and need, while I looked for a magazine, with a thirty-five year olds sense of immediacy and need. A. is learning to whistle, and has just about mastered it. ‘What am I looking at?’ I sarcastically fire back ‘I’m whistling Dad.’ I could have let it go, but I took it a step further. ‘Well, don’t I listen for a whistle? How can I see a whistle?’ A slight hesitation then a serious ‘Dad, look.’ She has gotten to know me well in the last five years and followed it up with a ‘Just listen’, and sure enough the ‘weeYOOwit’ whistle, typically used to call dogs, went from her puckered lips into my ears. I was proud, and shot her a grin and ‘nice work’ to let her know it, but knew I would soon have the task of explaining the use of discretion while whistling. For now, she can whistle when and where she wants – you’re welcome fellow shoppers, park walkers, and restaurant eaters.
I used to say that I didn’t need recognition for the work I did; I used to pretend that the completion of a job was enough of a reward, that a pat on the back was uncomfortable. While I quietly said ‘I don’t need their approval.’ I was really saying ‘I want their approval, but please, not in front of everyone’, and while I didn’t want it in front of everyone, I wanted them to make sure that everyone knew. But, I was a bit ashamed of this supposed child-like need that I have.
What made me so uncomfortable? It was wondering how others would perceive the attention I received for something that was expected or not unusual – to them. It seems that if you aren’t publically praised or put down, if you fly under the radar, most people will reserve judgment and let you go on your humble-merry-way, but really, are we really humble people, or, aside from those who don’t hide their love of the limelight, are most of us fearful of what public praise might bring. Will people look at us with more skepticism, think we’re ‘brown nosers’, or expect more from us?
Now, I’m not saying that I need parades for completing tasks that are expected, but it’s nice to be recognized, sure I know what I did, but if we don’t see one another’s accomplishments and take the time to recognize them, we run the risk of devaluing one another’s contributions to society. We may come to expect things that, due to a seemingly lack of interest, disappear all together. If we don’t throw a dollar in the street performers’ hats, or clap at the end of a show, but listen for a minute and move on, they may decide not to show up, and then we have lost something.
My Papa Sense tells me:
We can get caught-up praising our kids for some of the silliest things we see them do, or things that we know they will eventually learn, and we should, our reassuring and complimentary words keep them wanting to learn and do more. As we age, it is necessary that we develop an understanding of the intrinsic value of competing a task, and sustain the ‘fire in ourselves’ to do the right thing, because we know it is the right thing to do, I get that, but it’s nice to have our internal thoughts confirmed by outside-sources from time-to-time.
Perhaps, we could take a lesson from how we praise our kids accomplishments, and view the world around us that way, even if for just a day, look and say things like ‘Thanks for not smashing my bread and berries today. Nice work.’ (maybe make that a more positive statement) ‘Hey, I think it’s cool that you held the door for that guy’, or ‘I appreciate the way you put the sticky and plastic wrappers from your new shirt in the garbage right away instead of leaving it on the dresser where it falls from and gets caught in the vacuum cleaner today.’ Sarcastic smiley emoticon to make sure you knew I was kind of kidding – goes here.
I have been whistling for over twenty years, but it was her accomplishment, something she worked on, and I hope the joy she sees in my face and the pride she feels inside, will motivate her to forever seek out new challenges, and inspire others to do the same.
Okay, two ‘motivationally’ ones in a row. Watch out, I have some pent-up aggression that may rear its head on Friday.