Friday, October 14, 2011

The value of praise and compliments - Even Gods need to be praised

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An aarti is a ritual in which lamps are waved around the deity so that light falls on the glory of the god or goddess. This is often accompanied by the singing of bhajans, the lyrics of which praise the deity and draw attention to the deity's great accomplishments: the killing of demons, the rescue of devotees, the admiration of all beings. And when the aarti is done and the bhajan concludes, everyone bows and gets to the business of seeking grace and blessing and boons. Why is this not done before the ritual? And what is the point of praising a deity? Isn't divinity all-knowing? Why does a god or goddess need reminding of his or her own achievements?

The ritual of aarti and bhajan draws attention to the value of praise. Everyone likes to hear good things about themselves and their work. It reaffirms one's faith in oneself. It makes one feel validated. It makes one feel acknowledged. It makes one feel alive. That is why rewards are always accompanied by recognition. Everyone wants to be noticed.

In temples, aarti is not restricted to the presiding deity. Aartis is done to all the subsidiary and satellite shrines, even to the doorkeepers of the shrine, to the consorts and to the vehicle or vahana. Everyone is acknowledged, everyone is praised. This increases the chance of divine intervention.
The same is true of the corporate world. In the sea of systems and processes and people, we all like being a face in the crowd, once in a while.

Rangarajan the team leader of a media company knows the value of praise. He introduces each member of his team as 'an expert', 'a stalwart' or a 'key member'. He remembers every little achievement of his team. When Rupesh walked into a meeting, he beamed when Rangarajan says, "Here comes the guy who stayed back late last week to get the files downloaded for the presentation to the client." Swati, the trainee, was in heaven when she heard Rangarajan declare, "The way she maintains records of client meetings is something enviable."

Through these words, Rangarajan empowers his team, makes them feel valued and important. It reveals they are not invisible performers of tasks. They are people who matter. His praise fuels them and they go that extra mile at work.

But just as bhajans do not work without bhakti, praise does not work unless it is genuine. Whatever Rangarajan says is true. None of it is a prepared speech. He constantly looks at what to admire in every person he meets. No person is perfect. But everyone has something of value to offer. It may seem insignificant to others but it becomes significant when noticed. That Sirish always calls his wife at lunchtime has no corporate significance. But Rangarajan turns it into office fuel when he remarks in front of everyone, "I wish my daughter gets a husband as caring as Sirish." It makes Sirish blush. He feels happy. And in happiness, he delivers more.

Is an aarti and bhajan strategic or sincere? Is praise by bosses strategic or sincere? We will never know. What matters is that it makes a difference to the subject being admired. No one ever complained when occasionally they found themselves being praised. So go ahead - do someone's aarti today, or sing a bhajan in someone's praise. And not just of your boss.

- This post has been written by the author Devdutt Patnaik

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