Thursday, August 22, 2013

Maitre Corbeau

I keep hearing a quote from French class in 7th grade running through my head: "Maitre Corbeau, sur un arbre perche, tenait en son bec un fromage…"  Our teacher made us memorize fables.  Even though I can't even remember any numbers over three digits, my brain has retained many songs and tales that I had to memorize in French class.  It's a line from the famous tale about flattery called "The Raven and the Fox".  In the story, the Raven is eating a large piece of cheese.  The Fox flatters the Raven into singing.  When the Raven sings, it sounds terrible, and he drops the piece of cheese, which the Fox immediately eats.

Lately, I've been meditating on the difference between flattery and praise.  I grew up in a home where praise was only given for a job very well done.  I think it kept all of us humble.  We tried our best to please, and were rewarded only when we gave our best effort.  It made the praise seem sincere and heartfelt. Recently, my mom and dad sent me a birthday card.  My dad's handwritten comment made me actually start to cry.  His comment was not typically something that he would say in person, which made it even more meaningful to me.

When I first started working in display at Macy's department store, my first real job out of college, I had an incredible boss.  She is the yardstick by which I compare all other bosses (no one has yet measured up).  She used praise sparingly, and so when she complemented your work, you knew that it was your best work.  I think that all of us on the staff knocked ourselves out for her.  I know that some of my best and most creative projects were done under her supervision.  Flattery was completely alien to her.

Flattery often feels cheap.  It makes me feel distrustful.  A brilliant quote by Edmund Burke sums up my feelings: "Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver."  Spot on, Mr. Burke!

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