Positive Magic Of Appreciation
( Originally Published 1950 )
MY NOMINATION AS the one word of greatest significance in the lexicon is appreciation. When understood and used positively, appreciation is the most beautiful, the most powerful, and withal the most neglected and abused of all words. I defy any reader to select one word of greater potentialities in the achievement of a balanced, satisfactory way of life.
If you truly possess the full sense of the breadth and height and depth and quality of appreciation, you can fend off any blow life has to offer, you can soar to the high places and attain all of a great heart's desires. Once you fully possess appreciation, you have the only world worth having at your command. For this single word encompasses in its sweeping embrace fine faith, great hope, sympathetic charity, all the essentials for an influential personality—one that wins love in its broadest sense and is capable of loving in return.
Your deepest hunger is for appreciation. Your most commonly recognized basic cravings are virtually meaningless without it. Food loses its flavor, drink its refreshment, shelter its comfort, without appreciation. Without it there is no adequate gratification of the gnawing hunger for social acceptance, a satisfactory love life, or gratification of our ego impulses, as discussed in other chapters. It is appreciation that gives life true meaning. Appreciation of you can come only from others, and the one best way to attain its inflowing nourishment of your life is by giving generously to others the appreciation they crave even as you and I.
It is more than a word. It is magic if you would have it so. Centuries ago the Romans developed the word appretiare, meaning to appraise or set a value on, from the words pretiare, to prize, and pretium, price. These Latin words produced the English words appreciate, meaning to set a value on and esteem the full worth, and the word appreciation, which modern lexicographers define as "the action of appreciating—a favorable critical estimate. . . ."
Here, again, we come to grips with the positive as opposed to the negative. Note, please, the positive action of appreciating. And note the positive synonyms for the word: esteem, estimate, prize, value, praise. Then note the negative antonyms : depreciate, despise, flout, misjudge, scorn, undervalue.
So, deep within you and me and all with whom we come in contact, is the very natural yearning to be esteemed and priced at our full worth, and we want the positive action of appreciating. We aren't crystal-gazers. We want to be shown over and over again. The knowing and telling and showing of appreciation can best be motivated by less miserly expression of gratitude and kindness. Self-appreciation is an unseasoned potion. We want appreciation from others. Our one best way to attain that expression is to accord appreciation to others as a deep and guiding positive principle of our lives and thoughts and actions.
From the great heart of the poet Helen Hunt Jackson came the beautifully expressive lines: "If you love me, tell me that you love me; the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave." It takes no masterful imagination to hear the words "If you love me, tell me so" echoing from the hearts of millions through the ages—the plea of the silent hearts of multitudes today.
You can't very well go up to Joe or Jane Dokes and say, "Please appreciate me," but you can ask them in a far more expressive way by revealing your own appreciation where it is due. Sometimes the expression may cause a feeling of shyness to well up in the recipient so that there is no immediate response, but as often as not the revelation of appreciation will melt down reserve, and an appreciation in kind will flow back to you.
There seems to be an almost universal fear of expressing gratitude. Perhaps this reluctance is interpreted by the unintelligent heart as indicating softness, weakness, or perhaps there is a fear that it undermines our feelings of adequacy and self-esteem. But it needn't be so. Appreciation is the flower of fine character. Only the churlish whose hearts are uneducated, whose sensibilities are uncultivated, whose emotions are unbalanced are incapable of expressing appreciation.
Nevertheless many are somewhat awkward about revealing their finer selves despite the desire that their fineness be recognized by others. James Aldredge gives us an interesting example of this awkwardness in a story still current in a Berkshire community:
One day a chimney fire broke out in the home of a man who had recently moved out from the city. As he stared helplessly, watching the flames lick through the wall, there came a knock. It was his next-door neighbor.
"Havin' a little trouble, eh?" said he. "Jes' fetch me an ax!"
The neighbor quickly chopped the plaster from the pipe hole, laying bare the smoldering framework. "Now fetch me a bucket of water!" he directed.
The fire was soon put out. When the native departed without another word, the city man supposed he had seen the last of him. But in a few minutes he was back with a bag of plaster, a roll of wallpaper, and some chicken wire. Carefully he tacked the wire over the hole and then laid on the plaster, " be back tonight," he said as he left.
That evening he put on the paper. He grinned as he remarked, "I papered this house myself. Lucky I had a roll left over, wasn't it?"
In ten minutes the job was done. But before he left this time, the owner came straight to the point. "How much do I owe you?" he asked.
The native looked at him contemptuously.
"Not a cent!" he snapped. "Can't a man be neighborly, if he wants to?"
With that he slammed the door and marched home. But the city man did not forget the kindness. He waited a chance to show his appreciation.
One cold winter day the opportunity came. It was below zero that morning, and from his window he saw the neighbor trying to start his car. No amount of cranking seemed to work.
Quickly the city man went to his garage, got out his own car, drove into the next yard, and hooked up a tow line. Not a word was said by either man. After the car was running, the city man untied the rope and drove away.
Early the next morning the neighbor was at his door. "How much do I owe you?" he asked.
This was what the city man had been waiting for. "Not a cent!" he flung back. "Can't a man be neighborly if he wants to?"
"Guess so," said the native. And with a slow smile he started for home.
Positive acts of kindness and appreciation have a way of bouncing back. But even if the return is never detected, one shouldn't cripple his own sense of appreciation. He can better adopt the philosophy of that wise observer of centuries past, Marcus Aurelius, who wrote in his journal, "Today I shall meet an impudent man, an ungrateful man, one who talks too much. It is natural for these men to be like this: so I shouldn't be surprised or disturbed."
All too often when we feel appreciation we may tell others of our enrichment but take it for granted that the generous themselves understand how we feel. The wives of some men never hear the spoken words, "I love you. You are kind. You are generous." These strong, silent men may be willing to die for those they love, but it's not dying that is wanted or the daily devotion of labor to care for their loved ones—it's the spoken words that would flood a life with sunshine.
We should so live that in later years we do not have to say, as David Grayson did, "Looking back, I have this to regret: that too often when I have loved, I did not say so."
No one is too great to want appreciation and be benefited by it. Joseph P. Tumulty, secretary to President Wilson, related an incident that occurred in the White House when Wilson was at the peak of his power. An obscure editor of a little country paper in the West had sent to the President a letter expressing appreciation for something he had done. Tumulty reports that there were tears in President Wilson's eyes when he said, "Here is a man who understands what I am trying to do."
It is the essence of kindness to express appreciation, and too often we wait and wait for some outstanding event, when it's the little daily items of appreciation that could mean so much. A man on his way to becoming an alcoholic revealed in a burst of confidence that he was ready for suicide because, strive as he would to provide a beautiful home and cars and country clubs and luxurious expeditions for his wife and children, he was convinced that they all looked upon him as a checkbook and nothing more. "Their hands are constantly held out to receive," he said as he downed a hooker of straight bourbon, "but so help me God, not once a year do they give me one tiny little word of appreciation. Couldn't one of 'em just once—just once, mind you—break down and say 'Gee, Dad, that was swell of you' "?
Don't wait to make the grand gesture of appreciation. It's the minor things that count, as expressed by an anonymous poet in a clipping entitled "The Little Things," found in my mother's Bible.
If any little word of mine May make a life the brighter, If any little song of mine May make a heart the lighter, God help me speak the little word
And take my bit of singing,
And drop it in some lonely vale
To set the echoes ringing.
If any little love of mine
May make a life the sweeter,
If any little care of mine
May make a friend's the fleeter
If any little lift may ease
The burden of another,
God give me love, and care, and strength
To help my toiling brother.
If you love 'em, tell 'em!
If you like 'em, tell 'em!
If you appreciate 'em, tell 'em so!
And say it as if you meant it!
Charles Schwab didn't become a million-dollar-a-year man because he failed to understand people. He understood the yearning for appreciation. Said he, "Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise."
The same principle was understood by the famous composer Handel. M. Rebecca Perry tells of the final rehearsal for the London performance of Handel's oratorio, The Messiah. The chorus had sung through to the point where the soprano solo takes up the refrain, "I know that my Redeemer liveth. . . ." She had perfect technique—faultless breathing, accurate note placing, and flawless enunciation. But as she finished the last note, Handel silenced the orchestra. Sorrowfully he said, "My daughter, you do not know that your Redeemer liveth, do you?"
"Why, yes," the soloist stammered, "I think I do."
"Then sing it!" Handel thundered. "Tell it to me so that I and all who hear you will know, and know that you feel the power and joy of it!"
Then he motioned the orchestra to play it again. And this time she sang the truth as she knew it in her heart, sang with no thought of applause, sang so gloriously that all who heard forgot the craftsman's work and wept under the spell of the singer's soul. And when she had finished, the great composer approached her with joyous, tear-filled eyes and kissed her on the forehead. "You do know," he whispered, "for you have told me!"
Kindness emanates from the appreciative souls, issuing rays that sterilize any contagion of humiliation and defeat. Only they can be truly great, perhaps, because the world is forever in debt to the kind of heart. There is a Malay proverb which says that one can pay back the loan of gold but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.
Appreciative kindness is a lesson in universal love and the first rule of etiquette. Robert Browning understood this. His artist son gave an exhibition of some of his pictures. One day, in the absence of his son, the poet received distinguished visitors and showed them about the exhibit. He left them for a moment to greet an unannounced visitor.
The new guest was embarrassed when Browning offered his hand, and she stammered, "Oh, I beg your pardon, sir, but please, sir, I am your cook! Mr. Barrett asked me to come and see his pictures."
"And I am delighted to see you," said the poet, giving her a warm smile. "Take my arm, and I will show you around."
Another man with an understanding heart is Louis B. Mayer, the noted Hollywood motion-picture magnate, who is reputed by some to be done on the six-minute side. But there are those in the cinema colony who know that when the great actress Marie Dressler was in the late stages of her fatal illness Mr. Mayer visited her almost daily. In his efforts to buoy her spirit and give her hope, he took a new script on each visit and discussed it with her as a possible future vehicle. He knew there was slight chance that she would ever leave her bed, but his days were not too busy for his kind errand.
With mere knighthood a man could be lost in a crowd, but when knighted by kindness he is easy to discern, as was Sir Bartle Frere, when he was governor of Bombay. His wife, accompanied by a male servant, went to a crowded station to meet him on his return from a trip. She told her servant to go look for Sir Bartle.
"But how shall I know him?" the servant asked.
"Simply look for a tall gentleman helping somebody," she said.
With no further means of identification, the servant lost himself in the crowd and soon found a tall man helping an elderly lady from a car. He had found Sir Bartle.
Appreciative kindness provides such gracious giving. It is, as Mark Twain observed, a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can read. The great actress Sarah Bernhardt knew this language in all its inflections. She kept a bowl filled with coins on a secluded hall table in her home. One day, one of her visitors observed that some of her departing guests quietly visited the bowl and removed some of the coins. Her observant visitor lingered until the others had gone and then asked Bernhardt about the bowl.
"All of my friends, particularly those who are in need, know the bowl is there," the actress explained. "They know why it is there. It enables me to offer them aid when they need it, and them to accept it, without the embarrassment of asking for it."
But one need not be famous and wealthy to indulge in the art of gracious giving. Marion Simms tells about a little friend of hers who seemed to know this almost instinctively. The little girl's allowance was gone, and no money was available to provide a gift for her sister's birthday, but the child found a way.
When the sister opened her birthday packages she found an envelope tied with a ribbon. Inside were three slips of paper with these neatly printed gifts:
Good for two dishwashings
Good for two bedmakings
Good for two kitchen-floor scrubbings
In the days that followed the sister "spent" her thoughtful gifts.
Another illustration of gracious giving from an intelligent heart is provided by Walter B. Pitkin:
Wong Hop ran the one store and the one restaurant in a Nevada mining town. The war came and took most of the town's population—all young men—for all branches of the service and for war factories. Everybody in town owed Wong Hop for groceries and meals; so it was plain that this sudden departure would ruin him. Folks wondered how he would take it.
Wong Hop gave a farewell dinner to his friends and customers. The town was sure he would delicately suggest that his guests pay their bills. But no.
The dinner was a Cantonese marvel. After the town had stuffed down the dessert, Wong Hop moved over to the door and shook hands with each departing guest. Deftly he pressed five dollars into each hand as he shook it farewell and Godspeed.
"See here, Wong Hop," said an old-timer. "Why did you do that? All those fellows owed you a lot of money. If you don't collect it, you'll be bankrupt. Why did you give each one five dollars?"
"It makes my face to shine," answered Wong Hop. What have you done recently to make your face to shine?
Because so often you have failed to receive appreciation? Samuel Liebowitz, the great criminal lawyer, saved seventy-eight persons from going to the electric chair, and yet not one of them ever even bothered to send him a greeting card at Christmas. Art King, an ex-Marine, established a "Job Center of the Air" broadcast and placed twenty-five hundred veterans in good paying positions, one for as much as $12,000 a year, and received thanks from only ten. There was a man from Nazareth who healed ten lepers, and only one of them bothered to thank him.
Reluctance to express appreciation with either word or action seems to be almost as deep-seated in human nature as the craving to be appreciated. Don't expect appreciation. Give it. You will give appreciation if you have the intelligent heart. The reward for giving bread of appreciation to the hungry of heart? It will help you to acquire the positive way of life. It will make your face to shine!
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