Friday, November 2, 2012

Finding Reasons to Praise

Life can be seen as a succession of meetings, some favorable, preparing us for success in life, and some so unfavorable that life itself becomes unbearable. 

Writing in the Catholic Digest a priest, principal of a high school, recalls a meeting with a student whose eyes, seemingly all white  were the first things he noticed. Even though he knew the student had
received high praise from his teachers, there was no doubting that he was under a lot of stress. The priest asked very directly, What is the problem?

The student, Juni, answered without making much sense, going over the anxieties of the past, his present difficulties with his family and his mother, and his fears concerning the future. After listening intently, the priest was still not able to get a coherent understanding of the problem. Juni began to repeat himself, feeling a need  to unload what was inside him, but not able to find the right words to express what was bothering him. The priest felt it was time to end the meeting and scheduled another. The meetings continued for about two months before he fully understood what the student was trying to explain.

Juni recalled his aunt praising him, during one of her visits to his house, for being  a good son and student. His mother, who was present, said, "I can't say that. I don't trust him." From that moment on, he delved into his past, trying to find out what his mother was talking about, and for a number of nights couldn't sleep. The mother, seeing the change in her son, and paying no attention to what might have caused the change, brought him to the mental hospital, where he was given medicine that gave his eyes a strange look.

On the next meeting with the priest, Juni heard some unaccustomed words as the priest began the conversation by praising him, telling him he'd heard he was a good athlete, a good student, was getting a scholarship, and was good-looking besides. His response was similar to his mother's. "That's not true; I'm not that person."

"Why do you think that?" the priest asked. "Are you being humble?" Juni did not answer.  The priest continued, "How is what you are now saying different from what your mother said to your aunt?" It was then that the priest saw for the first time the beginning of a smile on Juni's face.

For a child to live with enthusiasm and confidence is not  difficult, the priest tells us.  But our words can make it difficult, if they are not chosen wisely. The priest would like to see all parents and teachers--all of us--becoming more thoughtful and caring with our words, whether students are present or not, and wherever we are communicating with others.

As a high school principal familiar with students struggling with school work, he would like to hear more often words similar to what a mother might say to her son who is struggling with his studies, "Our child doesn't do well in studies, but he has a good character and he will do well in life." If children were to hear similar words of praise, instead of the critical words that normally come unthinkingly to mind, how much better would our children think? asks the priest. And how much better would they live?