Just saw a comment from a fellow Chinese in a forum saying there is a lack of natural praise in our culture. I think it’s so true.
The way North Americans relate to each other generally focuses on finding others’ merits to give praise, boosting people’s self-confidence and encouraging them for self-motivation. In contrast, traditionally, Chinese tend to point out people’s shortcomings (including their own) to give criticism, believing in that bitter pills have a wholesome effect and will eventually bring sweetness in people’s life. Guard against arrogance, they would say, so we can always stay humble and strive to improve ourselves. Both approaches are with good intentions. The people at the other end who hear those comments, either positive or negative, may feel quite differently. The former makes people cheerful and confident, but may sometimes lead to superficiality. The latter helps people be self-disciplined and down to earth, but may to some degree lead to a lack of self-confidence.
I grew up in a traditional Chinese family. My parents almost never praised me in my presence. When I was young, I did not like this because it was no good for building upon my self-confidence. Fortunately they are most loving parents, and I have had the best possible nurturing to grow into a person with a superb feeling of security. Starting from there, I have been able to explore the world freely and come to realize where my true strengths and weaknesses lie as time goes on. Self-confidence is thus built up firmly. Criticism and difficulties can not drain my self-confidence at all. They could act as a reminder of how I might be able to do things better, but they can never change my basic view of myself. Having said that, as a parent, I’d rather encourage my kids than scold them. I think it is most important for them to establish belief in themselves here in Canada.
To adults, maybe praise is still more meaningful than criticism. Grown-ups, as the name suggests, have formed their personalities already. No one is perfect. Criticism brings more distress, while encouragement creates a pleasant atmosphere. The latter probably works better to stimulate a drive to improve oneself.
On the other hand, I am curious about whether there is a role of a friend in western culture, like the one in Chinese culture, who dares to say forthright words to people he cares. Too many sweetened words may taste less sweet. Sometimes, if you always hear praise, you will probably get a bit confused, wondering whether what you have done is really good or not, and what can actually be improved. Personally, I like frank and cordial friends. I guess North American people have their own ways to express their true opinions. It just takes time for an immigrant to learn how to tell.
To wrap up, what shall we do when we communicate with others: to always praise people or to amicably remind them of mistakes they’ve made if you do see some? I would say it depends. I’d be more frank to a close friend, while give more praise to people I don’t know very well. And, in case I have to prescribe some pills, I’d try to mingle them with some sweets so that they won’t taste that bitter.
2 thoughts on “甜言蜜语 vs 良药苦口/Sweetened Words V.S. Bitter-sweet Pills”