From Z to Z

I hate praise. via Creative Commons

Look at the subtitle. Now back to this text. Now back to the subtitle. Now back to me. Sadly, that subtitle isn’t as witty as this intertextuality-influenced intro (adding alliteration appeared adequate). Or maybe it is, depending on your sense of humor. Maybe you crack up at oxymorons and paradoxes. Or maybe it’s redundancies and pleonasms. Depends on your individual interpretation of the aforementioned affirmation. But perhaps it’s time to cease espousing an unnecessarily eloquent lexicon and focus on the matter at hand.

I hate praise. I should probably explain that. I’ll focus on two parts: “hate” and “praise.” Because I sincerely hope that the meaning of “I” is self-evident. The name’s in big red letters at the top of this page. “I,” being the first-person singular nominative personal pronoun, refers to that marvelous being. A truly wondrous person, truth be told, gifted with sharp wit and dashing good looks, a shining example of what every young boy should one day aspire to be. Well, some would argue against the pathological narcissism, put that’s a point of contention, based on unsubstantiated rumors and purely anecdotal evidence. I mean, I could be modest if I wanted to, but when situations…

Wait, where was I? Right. “Hate.” I hate “hate.” And I don’t mean that as some optimistic peace-loving political statement. No, “hate,” the emotion, is all good and dandy. Well, not good, by definition, but it’s fine; it’s part of human nature, and plays vital roles in building our psychology. No, it’s “hate,” the word, which I have problems with. It’s broad and extremist. Hate can range from a hyperbolic expression of mild indifference to all-consuming, fixating antagonism. But suffice it to say that, for the intention of the statement “I hate praise,” the word “hate” most approximately means taking issue with the excessive use of, as it pertains to the subject/author, when not completely justified, or when in a situation whose overall impact on all present parties is cumulatively more negative than positive, all in a highly subjective ruling of the author.

Okay, maybe that was a bit more complicated than just “hate.” I’ll explain it better in just a minute.

But first, let me talk about the third and final word, “praise.” This I do mean in its most general, all-encompassing meaning. Compliments. Approval. Congratulations. Acclaim. Commendation. Be it flattery or begrudging, public or private, white lies or genuine, by “praise” I mean all types of positive personal remarks. When you put it like that, it seems praise is nothing but good, right? Who would ever be against it?



The two main issues I have with praise are the ones I hinted at when defining what I meant by “hate.” The first is whether or not the compliment is justified, whether it is deserved – whether it is true. In general, untrue compliments fall into one of two categories: sarcasm or flattery. The former is highly volatile; it’s like adding peanut butter to someone else’s hamburger – mean but acceptable prank in most cases, but potentially very dangerous. Trust me, anaphylactic shock isn’t fun for anyone. But as long as used correctly, with proper judgment calls, sarcastic compliments are fine. The latter, on the other hand, is a social lubricant. Be it white lies to keep a relationship on good terms or flattery to build one, it’s got a purely social function. And while I’d really love to go into a discussion of the relative merits of brute honesty versus manipulative praise, I won’t.

Don’t go there.

I’ll only explain my opinion: not with me. I’ll dispense white lies at will because they make others feel good. But not me. If I ask you to read my essay, I want you to point out every misplaced comma, every awkward construction. I ask you how I look, I want to know that choosing that shirt was a mistake, that I really need to shave and take a shower. I ask you if I was too insensitive or aggressive, I want you to say yes, damn it, you were an ass.

I’d much rather take criticism and improve than take praise and stagnate.

The other issue I have is somewhat simpler. If I really did do a good job and deserve some credit, I don’t need outside praise to validate my accomplishment. I know I did a good job, and I know you know I did a good job; if you respect the deed, that’s fine. No need to vocalize it. Especially to others. Compliments are all fine and dandy when they’re directed at you, but when someone next to you gets praise and you don’t, you feel bad. Maybe you feel good for the person, you agree to the commendation. But we are competitive beings by nature. We will always be comparing ourselves and our performance to others. And it’s not petty jealousy I’m talking about. It’s not even necessarily directed at the person. But just knowing that someone did better, and that therefore you could too but didn’t, leaves a bitter afterthought.

So no, I don’t really hate praise. I just have some issues with the way it is dispensed. But “hate” is much more sensationalist and provocative. I mean, it was a good enough hook to get you to read this far, wasn’t it? So feel free to tell me what a great writer I am.