The Dangers of Praise
Positive reinforcement such as praise is an important tool that aids learning and growth of an individual. Whenever someone does a good deed or creates something extraordinary, praise naturally becomes due to acknowledge the individual. This positive reinforcement increases levels of motivation and drive in an individual to continue walking along the same productive track.
Many investigations about praise in the field of psychology suggest when individuals are praised in the right fashion, they develop an urge to repeat similar endeavors to receive the positive reinforcement again. Not only does praise improve individual’s self-esteem, it also provides a reassurance which in turn results in higher levels of confidence.
Dr. Terri Apter, a senior tutor at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, author of “The Confident Child” suggests in her book that praise is no doubt a very important learning tool; but it is difficult to use correctly. During her research conducted on children, she discovered that different individuals respond to praise differently.
A 5 year old burst into tears when her mother looked at her school workbook and said “this is brilliant!”; a 7 year old kicked and screamed and then squeezed her newly made clay figure into a ball when her grandmother praised it as “wonderful”. Psychologists warn that praise for overall ability is harmful because it suggests that any good performance is a result of natural ability with an underlying implication that poor performance is a result of natural deficiency. Praise for an outcome that emphasizes ability then makes an individual reluctant to take on a challenge, which always has the possibility of failure because it signals lack of ability.
Praising in Islam
According to Islam, praise should not be repeated many times as there is a high risk of inflated egos. This effect was also discovered by science; individuals who were praised often develop heightened egos and begin to think that they are better than the rest. Islam teaches us equality; had it not been so, our Prophet (SAW) would have recommended the kings and individuals with higher stature in society stand in the first Saff (row) during Prayers.
As our religion would have it, everyone is equal for Allah; the only ones truly better than the rest are the ones who are more devoted towards Allah and His Prophet (SAW). Praise is also one of the tools used by satan to trick us into believing we are better than those around us.
Praise when used in a negative manner may make someone believe in an illusion; normally people praise their superiors to get better scores, a promotion or a raise in their compensation. No matter what the purpose may be, undue or exaggerated praise is discouraged in our religion. Elders of Islam used to fear “praise” to the extent that they used to pray to Allah for protection from it; Sayyidina Abu Bakr RA often prayed:
Allahumma-ja’lni khayran mima yadhunoon wa-ghfir li ma la ya’lamoon wa la tu’akhidhni bi ma yaquloon.
“O Allah, make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for what they do not know about me, and do not take me to account for what they say about me”
Our Holy Prophet (SAW) disliked praising because all his life he gave the teaching that all praise is for Allah only. Ata ibn Abi Rabah reported that once a man was praising another man in the presence of Ibn-e-Umar; when Ibn-e-Umar heard him, he tossed dust towards his face and said:
“The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said ‘When you see those who praise people, throw dust in their faces”
One of the reasons why praise is disliked so much in Islam is probably because of the fact that all praise is for Allah only; another reason maybe the risk of heightened egos that give the praised individuals an illusion of being better than other people.
Praise is a form of flattery, something people indulge in to insincerely appreciate others; implying that they are more important or more attractive than they really are, so as to please them or persuade them to do something in return. This flattery is addictive, like a drug it flows in the blood craving for more; this insatiable thrust for appreciation can take us away from Allah in more ways than one.[pullquote_left]This flattery is addictive, like a drug it flows in the blood craving for more; this insatiable thrust for appreciation can take us away from Allah in more ways than one.[/pullquote_left]
A personal experience I would like to share; last year, I made a small home theater system by myself which sounded just like a professional home entertainment system. When my uncle saw it, he really appreciated it and praised me for my dexterity. Soon I started feeling an urge to listen to him praising me again; so I bought myself a proper home entertainment system. It was a professional one with 6 huge speakers and 2 big woofers. When my uncle came around and saw it he said “All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the worlds” and smiled. I understood what he wanted to tell me, I had fallen a victim to satan; I offered prayers and asked for His forgiveness.
Had it not been for my uncle’s lesson, I probably would have ended up with a cinema inside my room. I started reading about praise and its instructions in Islam; I read a narration by Al-Aswad ibn Suray. He narrates:
“I came to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and said, Oh Messenger of Allah, I have praised Allah and you in poems of praise and eulogies. The Prophet (SAW) replied, ‘As far as your Lord is concerned, He must be praised..’ and so I began to recite them. While I was reciting, a tall bald man asked permission to enter. The Prophet (SAW) asked him to enter and told me to be silent. The man came inside and spoke for some time and then left; once he was gone I started reciting again; that man came again asking permission to enter and once again the Prophet (SAW) told me to be silent again and the man spoke for a while. This happened a few times, I asked the Prophet (SAW) who the man was, he replied ‘This is the man who does not like vain things”
A question arises, if we do need to appreciate someone for a good deed how to do it without invoking Allah’s displeasure; after much probing I realized the best way to praise someone is to pray for them in return of the favor. For instance, now whenever someone does something that I appreciate I pray for them or say “Jazak-Allah” which means “May Allah reward you for this act”. Come to think of it, I believe that is the best way to appreciate someone because not only does it please Allah it also enforces the fact that Allah is the only one who has the power to reward, as it is said:
La hawla wala quwwata illa billahil aliyyil azeem.
No one has the power to give but Allah.
Richard Edwards has been blessed with a mind that is always open for knowledge and a soul that seems to have the sole purpose of enlightening others. A HR expert by profession with four years of experience in the field of Human Resources and a Masters degree in Business Administration, Richard was exposed to various facets of the human life; through his passionate creative writing he intends to broadcast his learning so that others may benefit from it.