Being part of an affirmation culture has considerable impact at a personal level. Many of us find that our self-esteem is tied to how others see us (no matter how many self-help books announce this is not the way to go!). Feeling valued, and knowing where you fit creates emotional security, and we are more likely to invest where we feel valued, too. Most people are happier when their lives feature positive reinforcements and encouragement, when they feel respected and taken seriously.
Less obviously, it is a very powerful thing to be a giver of affirmation. To praise and encourage someone else is to be in a position of power. Not power over them – more standing within your own power. To praise, you have to take yourself, your opinions, values and insights seriously. Being able to give praise confers dignity.
In a praise-giving culture it’s a lot easier to come forward with whatever you’ve got and openly seek approval for it. It’s much healthier. If you can honestly seek praise, all kinds of strange, often passive aggressive games of influence and leverage become pointless. If praise-seeking is not derided (we currently tend to demonise and discourage it) but if it’s allowed, everyone can show their best without shame. By this means you start to get a culture more interested in how good something or someone is, not how much power they have.
People who can exchange affirmation have means of connecting with each other and brightening each other’s lives. In lifting each other up, we are all lifted. It encourages co-operation, and more friendly forms of competition where putting the best forward and seeking the best is more important than being declared winner. A habit of praising and valuing each other reduces jealousy and resentment, and makes it easier to be honest about envy. Wishing to achieve the same standards, be as clever, look as good is a way of expressing both affirmation and envy at the same time. It’s a much less poisonous sort of emotion when you can hold it honestly.
Affirmation gets us into the habit of looking for what’s good, or better, or useful. It’s not just about praising the best, but recognising progress and small wins. Undertaking it makes us more aware of what’s good around us, keeps us alert to small acts of kindness and little, ordinary victories. It also allows us to look at ourselves and see the good bits. Our current culture encourages self-judgement, and a sense of failure (should have gone to Specsavers, etc) we are bombarded with daily messages that tell us we’re too fat, unfashionable, not rich enough and not possessed of the new magic product. That wears people down. Being able to look at what you’ve done and pick out the good bits, and comment on them, and get positive encouragement from others over those good bits… that’s life changing.
Of course if we all did that, perhaps we’d all be less focused on material wealth and conspicuous displays thereof. Maybe if we knew we were respected as parents, valued as workers, loved as good neighbours, found amusing, charming, kind, well meaning, insightful… if we had those things, perhaps it would seem less important to have a new car, and the most fashionable shoes, and the right designer labels. And if that were the case, perhaps we’d find it easier to stop trashing the planet for the sake of all those material luxuries that add so little to our emotional and practical wellbeing. Perhaps we could have less, and enjoy life more, and feel totally awesome about ourselves as a consequence. I reckon we’re splendid enough to pull that off.