Recently I overheard someone say something like this, “you know when you falsely praise someone to boost their self esteem…”
I about wanted to puke when I heard this. Falsely praising someone? Why on earth would someone want to do that?
I suppose the meaning behind propping someone up is to make them feel better about themselves, but what if what you are telling them is a lie?
Proverbs 28:23 He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor Than he who flatters with the tongue.
Proverbs 29:5 A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.
Let’s call false praise exactly what it is: flattery. The Bible warns us multiple times about flattery! Much of the Psalms and throughout Proverbs and even the new testament tells us to beware of flattery, lying lips, etc!
If we think about what we are doing when we tell someone that isn’t exactly true, it’s setting the person up for failure in a big way. A few years ago there was a show on the WB called Superstar USA. This show spoofed a much more well known show, and evidently tricked several contestants into believing they were great singers, when in fact they were looking for the worst singers in America. They lied to the contestants, the audience so they would cheer them on, and to most of America. The woman who won, had no idea that she was considered the worst singer in America until she won and received money to pursue a recording deal, which she never made. Would you if you were told you were wonderful but it turned out to be a lie?
I cannot help but think if some of these severely untrained singers who were contestants on the show were told by family members who loved them dearly and didn’t want them to experience hurt or pain of any kind that they were the most wonderful singers and were as good or not better than some famous singers.
If you tell someone they are really good or great at something, when they are not, or do not have a talent for it, you are setting a trap for them to walk right into.
Sure, this example is in the extreme, or is it? We live in a culture in America where we want to tell people things without hurting their feelings, where there’s no room for growth, just be good at something and it will be enough. Or is it?
Being a songwriter and singer, it has been excruciating to find people who sincerely want to tell you the truth.
For every one person who will tell you that you need to improve in your art in order for it to be viable, there are literally thousands and thousands who will tell you that you are ready now. That it doesn’t matter, write what you feel, sing how you sing, art is all subjective anyway, market yourself and you will find your audience.
If we told our teachers, hey, teach what you feel is right, 3+3 could be 73 or 12, it doesn’t matter if it’s right, it’s all subjective anyway, you’ll find your students, we’d have a nation full of students who knew everything and absolutely nothing.
The arts are a discipline as much as writing, math, science, and social studies. Someone may have a natural talent towards being really good at that thing, but it takes time and learning to craft and hone that skill. Art is a discipline full of skills and tools that people learn to create something that makes sense.
Early on, I had someone tell me my songwriting was great and then I went to make an album which was a blast, and I started submitting my recorded music and I found that what I had been told wasn’t true. My songwriting was good, but it wasn’t good enough. It was a great start, but it wasn’t where it needed to be in order to record. I learned the hard way. I had people who told me what I wanted to hear, instead of someone taking the time and saying, hey, you still need to improve on this.
I’ve learned to hold certain people’s opinions in check, because there is no guarantee that the person I’ve asked for their opinion has my best interests at heart. I give honest feedback because I want honest feedback. My opinions may be harsh, may seem to be nitpicky at times, because I want the best for the people who are asking, and sometimes I give without someone asking, but I’ve been working on not giving out so much of what I’ve learned to people who don’t want it.
Since then, I’ve been my own worst critic. I ask my husband to be harsh and not hold back any criticism, because I want to grow, I want to be good, I want to write great things for the kingdom of God and I want what I create to matter in people’s lives. That means a lot of the time, I create, I share with people I trust to tell me an honest opinion and if it still needs work, I go back and work on it, or start a new project and work on it until I find that the project has either served it’s purpose, or get it ready to share with others. Now my husband knows my heart and has experience in music and art on a professional level, and when he’s honest, I take it to heart. I do have problems accepting when he truly likes a song I’ve written, because I crave the criticism. I want to work on it.
So when I heard the idea of ‘falsely praising’ someone, it literally made me want to gag. This is what I’ve spent my entire career as an artist trying to avoid and to hear someone state that they knowingly do this to people, just really made me a little angry.
On the flip side of this coin, I am aware of the art teacher that told some student to never draw or paint again. There are several famous singers who have great careers who were told they couldn’t sing by their teachers. Or the science teacher that discouraged girls from participating and learning science. Talent is not born. I used to think it was, but I believe that natural aptitude towards a discipline is a God given ability that with learning skills and technique a person can develop into a person who is great at that ability. This is what we call ‘shows promise’ and ‘talent.’ However, if a person spends a great deal of time honing a skill, because they are interested in it, even the less naturally inclined can become quite good and possibly great at any skill.
If someone shows interest, encourage the interest, but be realistic with where they are at in their development. If someone is a budding songwriter, and they need help with lyric writing, point them in the direction of Jason Blume. If they’ve been at writing for a while, point them in the direction of Pat Pattison. If they are interested in pottery, have them take a class at a local studio, don’t just buy them a wheel for the house. If they are interested in science, encourage learning about whatever scientific discipline by taking a class at a local university or community college. But by no means should someone tell another person, YES GO FORTH AND MAKE MUSIC YOU ARE FANTASTIC AND AMAZING AND THE BEST I’VE EVER HEARD! Unless it’s truth. We do not need a legion of Florence Foster Jenkins. However, if someone loves singing, encourage the singing, even if they are bad at it, but let them know in a kind way that there is nothing wrong with singing to make your heart happy, just that singing on a stage might possibly not be a destination for them.
The idea is that there is always more to learn. No one person can be the best wherever they are, there is always room for improvement.
If we follow what Proverbs says, then we should be ready with a fair assessment instead of flattery. Encourage with fair assessment, criticize fairly over inflating egos. But if it’s flattery or false praise you want to give, Don’t Tell Me That.