The power of praise

Philip and me, in my trusty camping vest.

A hundred strokes on the left, keeping the boat straight, then a hundred strokes on the right, repeat. OK, the left is easier, so a thousand strokes on the left for every hundred on the right. I should be looking around, teasing out the yellow-rumped warblers and common yellowthroats in the reeds, or looking up for zone-tailed hawks instead of counting strokes. I should pause to admire the canyon walls, sights our ancestors never tired of, I suppose. I drip a little river water over my hands, cooling off, and then I keep paddling. A thousand strokes, a hundred, five hundred, oh, stop counting!

Philip taking a paddling breather.

I’m far behind the others, how far I never can tell. Philip and Raph occasionally, often really, wait to paddle along with me and our patient last boat, paddled effortlessly by Tony. I need to follow the dictum of keeping the paddle in the water, no matter how slowly I go, always paddle forward, especially in the wind. I wouldn’t say it is discouraging, for, after all, we are on vacation and this is only fun. The five or six hours of paddling will get done one way or another, hours before sundown.

Yet how exhilarated I feel when Kyle comments on how strongly and ceaselessly I paddle, working harder than anyone else. He noticed as he and Lindsey paddled by after lunch, a young married couple also from Houston. He didn’t have to say that. I wasn’t really discouraged. But I knew I was working harder than anyone else in my single canoe and it was so gratifying that a stranger until this trip noticed and said something nice.

Kyle and Lindsey sunning.

I treasured the praise, like a smooth stone I was about to skip, through the rest of the day, and liked him more for having said it. If I knew it was true, why did it matter someone noticed, someone I will never see after this trip? Do I praise my students enough? Do I praise my family enough? I’m a believer in praise, though I know it makes some people uncomfortable, feeling like it is false, or like the praise giver wants something. We should celebrate each other, each moment we can look around, feel the sun on our hands, the friends at our table, when, for the moment, all is well.

Philip and Raphael sleep the longest.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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