A look at the worth of praise
Interesting concept, that.
My first recollection of the expression harkens back to hearing my Uncle Norman talk about his new job. My father and I had joined him on his friendís houseboat for some lantern-lit, late-night crappie fishing during the willowfly hatch on Weiss Lake, a scenic patch of water nestled in the hills near Centre, Alabama. Norman had taken on new responsibilities at the Revere Aluminum plant near Scottsboro. Asked about increased compensation, he said, ďEvery time they give me more to do, all I seem to get for it is an Attaboy!Ē
When everybody laughed, he added: ďAttaboy!s are fine, but you canít carry íem down to the Piggly Wiggly to pay for groceries.Ē
He certainly had a point. I mean, what is an Attaboy!? I guess you could say itís an acknowledgment of effort, a recognition of accomplishment, maybe even a thank-you for caring; but when itís time to pay for those groceries, you need something a bit more tangible than someoneís approval or gratitude.
Yeah, just try handing out a few Attaboy!s and see what they get you.
Between baiting the hook and reeling in crappies, I thought about Attaboy!s Iíd received. One stood out: My third-grade class had been assigned to write brief holiday stories. A bit longer and more elaborate than most, mine wove a tale in rhyming verse. Apparently this impressed my teacher, who circulated it among other teachers and administrators. Feeling it deserved a professional-looking presentation, the principal had his secretary type two copies, one for posting in the glass display case, one for me to keep. (Note: This reminiscence recalls the era of manual typewriters, a time when even adults rarely ever got to see their words ďin print.Ē)
Now, that was an Attaboy!óin tangible form. When the principal presented it to me in front of the whole class, everybody clapped, followed by many gathering around to Oooh and Ahhh, several wanting my autograph. I learned then that an Attaboy! you can hold in your hands not only makes it more real for you, but for others, as well. Yes, group Attaboy!s can be infused with a magical power all their own.
There is no limit to how one can bestow an Attaboy! Kids are usually happy with a simple thumbs-up, a gold star, a display of their creative efforts on the fridge . . . but you should never assume thatís enough. Children can sense when Attaboy!s are doled out indiscriminately, but the mere fact of you issuing one is still better than indifference. Just bothering to look for opportunities proves youíre paying attention, that you noticed, that you understand, that no matter how insignificant a simple act might be in the greater scheme, you were moved by it, and you want to acknowledge it.
Iíve received my share of Attaboy!s over the years, having been lucky to surround myself with people willing to make that effort. Many of the more symbolic forms of recognition, the awards and certificates and plaques, have been fun to display at various phases of life and career. Still, the first time a cadre of grinning executives slid an envelope across the table, a surprise merit-bonus check worth lots of groceries . . . well, letís just say the scuba-diving adventure it financed felt as tangible as the cool, fish-swirled water and hot, babe-splayed beaches of a most-excellent Attaboy!
I could offer a litany of more favorites, but as I ponder them, I keep coming back to one particular rather-poignant kind: surprise thanks, least expected, for a thankless job. When you volunteer your time and effort and resources to help others accomplish something for themselves, usually you have to give yourself the Attaboy! Even so, every now and then someone finds out what youíve done, then makes it a point to remind you why itís all worthwhile.
Nothing beats an Attaboy! from the heart of someone who cares, a moment that passes right through you and leaves an indelible mark in ways you might not readily see, or which you might bring into focus only by looking closely through the prism of time and experience. I have to wonder if I would even be sharing this essay with you had I not as a third-grader held the school principalís Attaboy! in my hands and thought, Hey, putting ideas into thoughtfully chosen words on paper can be quite cool, indeed.
Uncle Norman was grinning when he told his Attaboy! story. Even at that age, I could sense he felt good about his accomplishments, proud of his work. Though not exactly compensated with hard cash, I think he did, after all, get paid something more valuableóeven longer lasting.
When you truly understand why it doesnít matter that most Attaboy!s wonít buy groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, you might also notice that most donít cost anything to give, either. You could consider them investments in othersí futures, but sometimes you might well see benefits unfold right then before your very eyes.
So consider all the people who pass through your life: loved ones who care what you think, strangers who work hard in service to you or others, and maybe, just maybe, a surprising number of good folks who try to make your world a better place. Might you be overdue to show them that you noticed? That you understand? That no matter how insignificant a simple act might be in the greater scheme, you were moved by it, and now you want to acknowledge it?
Donít count on buying groceries with an Attaboy!, but do try handing out a few anyway, and see what they get you . . .
You might just be amazed by what you get back.
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© The Fresh Ink Group, LLC, 2010†