Praise, continued

by Peter

The previous post may be true (or may not), but it is singularly unhelpful, practically speaking.

The fact is that very few people wholeheartedly desire praise. In fact, very few people wholeheartedly desire anything. Even fewer people singlemindedly seek what they desire. The previous post would only actually affect people who could and would do both. Its use to the rest of us is something more like a simple test of our desires. If you or I are unable to see ourselves wholeheartedly and singlemindedly pursuing any object of our desires, it seems wise to evaluate whether or not it should be desired as an object at all.

To further complicate the matter, humans have mixed motivations; they are driven by both habits and desires (see the inaugural post for this blog). Indeed, the drive of one is often easily mistaken for the other. They are similar in that they share the characteristic of having an object and in that either one can lead to the other. They are differentiated in such aspects as their saliency (to what extent their influence is conscious to us), their consistency, and the level of their interactions with our minds, hearts, and spirits. A fuller explication of their similarities and differences will, perhaps, be saved for a future post.

Such a pursuit of a desire as I recommended in the last post necessitates either an obsessive personality or else an ordered hierarchy of one’s desires. The former is self-evidentially undesirable, so I will deal solely with the second. Unordered desires do not allow the true pursuit of any desire. It is granted that desires, by their very nature, are difficult to control in that they are so bound up in beliefs and in emotions and in affections. It may perhaps be said that insofar as one’s thoughts, feelings, and affections are in harmony and order, one’s desires are in order. In this sense, the ordering of one’s desires is self-control and the self-controlled person is one who can pursue his desires (also may be stated inversely).

Returning to praise in light of these thoughts, I think we should be led to say a number of things. First, an evaluation of our desire for it seems in line, as its effects as a primary end are so insidious. Second, if we are driven by praise as an end in itself, we ought to take especial care that it not form from a desire into a habit, and thus less consciously motivating. If it is indeed insidious, we must be able to keep our eyes on it. This, ironically, is done best, insofar as I know, by the formation of other habits which contradict that one or which become reminders to keep track of it. Third, we must take care to keep our desire for praise in its proper place in relation to our other desires. This place may be non-existence; I am not sure. If it has an existent place, it certainly must fall under a desire to effect those things for which you or I are being praised.