The Dangers of Praise

I created a Facebook group called "Listen to Your Inner Voice". It was created for people who want to do more of just that: hear and really LISTEN to what that still small voice inside them is calling them to do and create.

I quickly began to realise the responsibility I had taken on in creating a group, as I wanted the group members to be SAFE! Someone posted a picture of their artwork and I wanted to jump in and say "WAIT!" as I had not yet created the boundaries of safety for this group. It wasn't necessarily NEGATIVE comments I was worried about, as the people I had invited to join this group were all sensitive and interested in the arts. It was the POSITIVE comments I was worried about.

Most people don't stop to think about the power of their words, especially when it comes to praise. Alfie Kohn, an American lecturer and author on the areas of education, parenting and human behaviour, warns of the dangers of saying "good job" to children, and I am going to unpack why this is also really true for adults!

From the time we are children we are either praised or punished for our actions and reactions. Praise and punishment are about CONTROL - getting people to do what we want them to do. If people are hungry for approval, our praise will only encourage them to seek ways to get more from us. The problem with this is that the reward is coming from the outside - the EXTERNAL. When we are children, (before an adult praises or puts down our artwork) we get internal pleasure from creating, experimenting with colours, lines, textures, moving our hands and seeing marks appear!

Part of what I learned in my art therapy studies was the INHERENT pleasures and sensations in art materials - the vibrancy of colours, the gooeyness of paint, the slickness of paper, the slipperiness of clay. Then there's the release in the process of just letting out whatever wants to come out!


Praise tends to focus on the PRODUCT!

Making art for process and making art for product are very different animals, but I know we can do both. If, however, we ONLY create for the product, we skip over the glorious and fascinating journey of the process - enjoying the materials, listening for what comes up and putting it into form, moving through inspiration and mystery! "The premature search for meaning seems to circumvent the creative process, by short-circuiting the energy needed to stay engaged with an image" (Pat Allen, Art Making as Spiritual Path, 2001 p. 181).



Even saying "I like the way you _______" or "good _____ing" leads people to rely on other's evaluations. "Good job" doesn't reassure people, it makes them less secure in themselves and more searching outwards for praise (Kohn, Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job", 2001).


Praise is a JUDGMENT!

People don't like being judged. Let the creator decide when something they've done is good/pleasurable/satisfying - it's important that it comes from within them! Your praise puts an external judgment of what's good and bad on someone's work. If you say to someone, as I innocently did at a process painting workshop, "I love your cat paintings", this person might hear "Cats = good" and unconsciously think "I wanted to paint flowers, but my cats are good and she didn't comment on my other paintings. I must only paint cats!"


Praise makes us LOSE INTEREST!

If I am motivated to create, or do, or experience something only for the accolades it gets from others, I will quickly lose interest in the thing itself if there is no praise to be had in the end! I will also not be truly present in the creation as my mind (ego) keeps looking ahead to how much others will like it.

In short, PRAISE motivates us... to WANT MORE PRAISE! Not to be creative!

So what CAN we do? How can the members of my "Listen to Your Inner Voice Group" share their creativity and artworks and be a safe, contained, loving group?

1) Consider your MOTIVES for your COMMENTS:

If it's to make the person feel good, consider that the ACT of CREATING already did this, and they might be sharing to:

- take a risk/be vulnerable/practice courage

- be generous with their joy, sharing for the delight of it

- encourage others to also share

"Are our reactions (comments) helping the person to feel a sense of control over their life or to constantly look for approval? Are they helping them become more excited about what they're doing in it's own right?"(Kohn, 2001)

*Remember: You don't have to EVALUATE to ENCOURAGE*

2) Thank the person FOR SHARING!

Praise of the product is not necessary! You can speak of the effect their sharing had on you: "This touched me" or "Thank you for your vulnerability. It makes me want to be brave/share".


Questions help us go deeper, think about the experience of the process, or the meaning of the product:

"What was the process of creating this like for you?"

"What does this mean to you?"

"What was difficult/easy about making this?"

"How did you manage to create/draw/paint this part?"

"What do you like about it?"

4) CREATORS: ASK for what kind of FEEDBACK YOU WANT!

In the notes, you can state: "Please, no comments" or "I would appreciate respectful/curious questions" or "Please comment by sharing an image of your own that this inspired you to make" - how cool would that be?!?


I hesitated to write this one as this is really going against the grain of social media, and people might feel their art was unliked if people don't click the thumbs up or heart button. Social media is MADE for comments!!

Ultimately, though, what we need is unconditional support & love with no strings attached. No comments show we believe the INNER VOICE is the voice that we most need to heed, respect, and listen to!