Acknowledging or praising the virtues of others when they’re around seems to carry a self-imposed burden of expectation that most of us resist. It’s easier for me to talk about this as a generalisation than to refer directly to my personal shortcomings, because in this vagueness lies some comfort as well. I’ve lost many people in my life that were significant others with whom I enjoyed a close and intimate personal relationship, or they were extended family, or even friends. Each time, I found myself trying to find comfort in the fact that my sincere inner prayers for their peace and comfort after death including privately acknowledging the good that they had in them is sufficient for not having acknowledged them while they were alive.
But it’s never that easy. Acknowledging people when they’re alive, or at least present, does carry a burden of accountability that is not always self-imposed. I’ve often found myself on the receiving end of criticism when I acknowledged someone’s good, and they automatically assumed that I lost my right to criticise something else about them. I tend to be guilty of the same response at times as well. I guess we’re all defensive in that way, and I’m not sure if we start that vicious cycle ourselves in each relationship, or is it a perpetual cycle that was started long before we were even conceived.
We live in a world of extremes. Digital thinking of zeros and ones, leading us to believe that it’s always all or nothing, but rarely any healthy balance in between. Recognising good in something, or someone, is often met with fierce criticism if we suddenly acknowledge something not-so-good in them, as if it’s not possible for both good and bad to co-exist in a single person. I’ve been accused of being hypocritical before because I may have enjoyed a good relationship with someone while also taking exception to something that they may have been doing. Perhaps it’s not a vicious cycle, but instead an impossible standard that we hold others to, always forgetting that we’re also that ‘other’ to someone else that applies that same standard to us.
We look at others and demand consistency and predictability, but we crumble under the pressure of the same consistency and predictability being demanded of us. It’s easy to expect, but not always easy to deliver. However, most often our attention is drawn to the rights that we have over others, rather than the rights that they have over us. No wonder then that we have such dysfunction in society. We tend to wait to have our rights and expectations fulfilled before we’re willing to return the favour. Everyone is waiting for that change that we all wish to see in the world, but no one is willing to offer it without an expectation of reciprocation.
I doubt this will change my inclination to openly acknowledge all the good that people do for me when they’re doing it for me. But I also don’t think that this is entirely a bad thing, because the acknowledgement I offer may not always be verbal, but is almost always demonstrated in my sacrifices of personal comforts and time which is much more meaningful than a few spoken words, the sincerity of which can never be known. When someone does something good for us, we’re faced with a few possible reasons why they’re doing it. Either they want something in return, they have a vested interest, or perhaps they’re doing it to subtly acknowledge our worth in their life. I suspect that we rarely consider the third option, quite possibly because the superficial nature of this world has most of us inclined towards the first two as motivators for action.