Scots don’t do praise. Of God, yes (a little), but not praise of one another.
Instead, we specialize in pulling people down, thinking the worst of others, and puncturing anyone who achieves anything. We can’t let a compliment pass without balancing it out with a criticism, and woe betide anyone who makes anything of life: “They’re just full of themselves!”
Where did this come from? Well, there’s no question that the cynical “build ‘em up to pull ‘em down” media is partly to blame. The evil envy of rabid and rampant socialism has also eaten away at much goodwill and gratitude towards achievement and achievers. But I’m afraid that a distorted Calvinism has also contributed to this soul-shriveling cynicism.
I didn’t see it so clearly when I was part of it, but with the distance of 5 years in the USA between me and my beloved homeland, it’s painfully easy to recognize and grieve over.
Perhaps it’s especially the contrast of my American sojourn that’s helped me to identify this Scottish ailment and my own contribution to it. Because if there’s one thing I can say about Americans, it’s that they are probably the most optimistic and cheerful people I’ve ever met.
True, this warm openness can sometimes lapse into gullibility: witness Jimmy Swaggert, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Barings, Lehmans, J P Morgan, etc. They wouldn’t have got very far in Scotland, I can assure you. However, there’s something so refreshing about the American desire to think the best, say the best, and do the best to others. The cheerful celebration of success and the willingness to offer encouragement and praise is such a contrast to so much of Scottish life, and yes even of Scottish church life.
But why did I partly blame a distorted Calvinism for this? Well, the biblical belief in the total depravity of all men and women seems to have been sometimes misapplied to exclude any appreciation of humanity, even of redeemed humanity. “Don’t want to make him/her/them proud, do we!” Praise, encouragement, appreciation, affirmation is somehow thought to be incompatible with a belief in the universal sinfulness of men and women. To praise is to apostatize; to encourage is to backslide; to recognize achievement is to risk the damnation of the achiever.
If someone is praised, get a criticism in quick. If someone does well, remind them and everyone else of their previous failures. If someone gets a promotion, “Well, what goes up, must come down (hopefully).”
There are happy Scottish exceptions of course, but the corrosive effects of this negative spirit are wide and deep, and still plague me too.
That’s why I found Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation so challenging and yet so helpful. I’m amazed that this book has not had much wider “affirmation.” As John Piper says in the foreword, it’s a “one-of-a-kind book.” Do you know any other book that deals with the subject of how to praise others and to do so as a habit of life? No neither do I; and yet, as Sam demonstrates, it’s a topic with lots of Scriptural support and explanation, together with huge consequences for our families, friendships, and fellowships.
And although I think Scots like myself need to practice affirmation far more than Americans, there’s no question that American Christians increasingly need it too.
I say that because among other worrying recent trends in America, I’m afraid that the celebration of good is weakening and a cynical critical spirit is spreading. I can’t say for sure where this has come from, but the inundation of bad news at home and abroad, the hostile hate-filled political climate, unjust corporate rewards, and our President’s regular planting and cultivating of class and economic envy have all played their heart-chilling, soul-shrinking roles.
So, if you want to learn what affirmation is, how to practice it, and what blessings it will bring to your life, stay tuned to the blog this week as I review Sam’s book. Or better still, buy the book and start praising God for His work in and through you and others. And maybe praise a few people along the way too.
Practicing Affirmation Review (1): Scots don’t do praise
Practicing Affirmation Review (2): 10 ways to praise people
Practicing Affirmation Review (3): Is the “sandwich method” a lot of baloney?
Practicing Affirmation Review (4): Should we praise unbelievers?