If I told you that you did something well, how would you feel?
What if I told you that you had actually done exceptionally well?
Or maybe, what if I said your work just "blew me away!?"
It feels like we have decided the extremes have become the norm now. A person does something for the first time ever and the results are "just amazing," "couldn't have done any better," or "literally fantastic!"
It doesn't leave much room for anything does it? Where's the room for growth and future achievement? Is it even possible for the person receiving these comments to prepare for the possibility of constructive criticism or the likelihood that the outsized dreams they have begun to cook up after high praise are going to require a good deal of effort and a fair amount of negative feedback along the way?
This is why I cringe when someone says something is "perfect." Either I am really, REALLY bad at being me or the perfection I have been striving for my entire life is a bit harder than we make it seem when we throw that word around so freely.
We have this tendency to give things far mar weight than they deserve. It's not just the praise for someone's efforts. Our criticisms must always be the most scathing and make it sound as if this is the FINAL WORD.
That was the "worst" such and such I have ever seen. This just "destroys" the position that these "other" people hold. etcetera etcetera...
Our desire to create the ultimate put-down/take-down leaves us, and everyone else, with no opportunities for discussion. No chance to reach a better understanding. No real incentive to learn more and improve ourselves. We're making it clear that there is no redeeming qualities here and it's time to move on... and find something or someone we like/agree with to be in awe of that "perfection" instead.
Once again, I cringe when this happens. After all, while I am far from perfect, I have honed a few skills and acquired some knowledge about a number of things. I believe I have shown some ability to learn and adapt. But, when you tell me that something I have said, something I have done or something I identify with is abhorrent and no worthwhile creature in the universe possibly believes that or does things that way, I am left either feeling like I must oppose you, or I must cease being who I am.
Truly heartfelt praise comes with carefully considered words. Don't just reach onto the shelf and grab the closest superlative. Give something real. Give something concrete. Give something that appreciates effort while also helping the person target an area for future growth and improvement. Give in a way that doesn't try to make that person into your clone. Instead, give so what you say and do encourages them to be their best self.
Similarly, honest and beneficial criticism and dissent also come with carefully considered words and actions. We aren't playing a game to see who gets the most points for the most cutting remarks, most dramatic actions, or the most empty applause for efforts at stealing the show.
Or are we?
If we are, I am not playing. Fair warning.