On Appreciation

Would it be too much to say that all growth emerges from appreciation? You or I take a class, for example, in “music appreciation.” We find ourselves becoming sensitive in new ways to the aesthetic value of music. Or we recognize one day what a parent or mentor did for us and we feel appreciative — grateful for their gifts, sometimes very unappreciated at the time. I try my hand at cooking and soon have a new understanding of what it takes to learn to cook well, to become more than a cook, but a chef who can bring together unique and arresting combinations of ingredients that surprise with their pure deliciousness. Perhaps this notion of appreciation answers a question that all self-reflective people (and hopefully all leaders) ask themselves: how do I grow? By what method do I become more of who I am meant to be? As soon as we appreciate, we take something into ourselves and begin to let it transform us, our understandings and ultimately how we behave. In turn this influences the essence of all our relationships.

Having this awareness that growth comes from appreciation, suddenly there is so much to appreciate: new experiences, perspectives, insights, people, events, history. I even notice the artful flight of the crow outside my window. I see the calmness of the lake’s waters behind the crow, and beyond that I notice the feat of creating the city on the other side of the lake. If I throw open the doors and windows of this little cabin of being called the self, I am flooded by a universe that begs for appreciation. I see into both the day and the night, good times and poor ones, appreciate what joy brings, and what sadness and suffering can bring as well. I become attuned to the vibrations of my environment: a crowded store, a tense room of executives, the sense of relief once a hardship is over. Suddenly my eyesight, my hearing are better, as if I’ve transformed to an entirely new kind of cat.

And among all the things I might appreciate, one comes forward that holds a special key, and that is self-appreciation. Not egotism or overweening pride, but surely more than just self-acceptance, bowing to a small portion of life, a fate. Self-appreciation is foundational, my fundamental belief in and capacity to trust my own judgments, to follow the threads that genuinely and uniquely belong to me, without denials and without deceptions. To appreciate everything I am, all the successes and failures, good moments and bad ones, great relationships and ones that need work, all those talents and all those opportunities, the whole kit and caboodle. With such a key you or I might unlock the world!


Technorati Tags: , Reflective Leadership. Link to blog posting. Link to Oestreich Associates website.


  • Dan: I appreciate this post.

    The very first sentence reminded me that there are [at least] two senses to appreciation: to recognize value, and to increase value. And the rest of the post prompted me to consider the way that these two senses are interrelated: by recognizing value, I [often] increase value.

    Your last sentence reminds me of the Introduction to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living in which he describes how a line from the movie, Zorba the Greek, provided the inspiration for the book’s title. When asked whether he is married, Zorba reples “Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I’m a man. So I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.”

    Kabat-Zinn goes on to describe how this applies to his book, whose subtitle is “Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness”:

    It was not meant to be a lament, nor does it mea that being married or having children is a catastrophe. Zorba’s response embodies a supreme appreciation for the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies and ironies.

  • Thanks for these thoughts! Yes, I think the reference to Zorba does get close to it — appreciation can be seizing life and being seized by it in return. Yet, too much of the time it seems that it is distant, apart from us, in the future, a product of having something we don’t yet have, money, time, choice. So, to me, that’s where the turn toward self-appreciative comes in. It’s the failure to make this turn, I think, that is an underlying cause of the distance — and the suffering. In the post proper I mentioned taking a course in music appreciation. What would it be like to take a course in self-appreciation — studying the history of challenges, successes, failures, growth, experience, styles, relationships, capabilities? Wouldn’t this course on self-appreciation be a healing event? Yes, I think it would. But there’s also fear here of sinking into navel gazing, self-absorption, and selfishness, egotism, insensitivity to others, a failure of potentials and ultimately, injustice to others — instead, as Kabat-Zinn says, of developing an appreciation “for the richness of life and the invitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies and ironies.” To me, this is not a subtle thing. True appreciation of self helps us develop humility and sensitivity. Egoists, because they are driven to prove their value to themselves, reflect the suffering of those who cannot appreciate self at all. Egotism reflects only the fear and pain of avoidance and compensation.

    When people as children are conditioned to pretend that they are always good, always perfect, always strong, always accomplished, they may adopt egotistical modes and thinking and acting. This is a “self-enhancement strategy”. These strategies are the opposite of what I am addressing here.

    Obviously, I’ve been thinking about this post a lot and am continuing to learn. So thanks, Joe, as always, for stopping by and taking a moment to share your thoughts.

    And I certainly invite you, whoever you are reading this far, to add your own thoughts to the pile!

  • I love the idea of a course in self-appreciation … though I wonder how one would be graded.

    I am fascinated by the term – and description – of self-enhancement strategies, and would have loved to incorporate notions of the public and tactical dimensions of self-enhancement, and self-serving attribution bias, into the scree blog post on the commoditization of Twitter followers I have been grappling with for days and finally posted a little while ago … and wonder if my inclusion of a link to that post here may qualify as a self-enhancement strategy.

    Your suggestion that self-enhancement strategies are employed [primarily] to compensate for self-appreciation deficits offers food for further thought. Like you, I am continuing to learn.

  • Joe

    Thanks for writing back — and mentioning your post on commoditization. Self-enhancement strategy or not, mentioning it was useful to me in knowing that you’d written another post (I like to read your posts) and this one is fascinating to me because it overlaps our discussion here.

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the difference between self-esteem and self-appreciation. Is there a difference, really? Well, I have a lot more thinking to do, but what I like most about the notion of self-appreciation is that it is a process not a quantity. We tend to think of esteem as if it were a bank, which leads to images of wealth and poverty. As a process, self-appreciation — if it relates to “quantities” at all — seems to be a “just enough” kind of experience. Just enough “for this person” or “for this circumstance,” causing a relaxation into life. Lots more for me to think about here.

    Getting back to your interest in self-enhancement strategies, I just found that great thread through danah boyd referencing Clay Shirky’s “A Rant About Women,” and Tom Coates’ commentary, “Should we encourage self-promotion and lies?” It’s a great discussion about culture and gender conditioning and has everything to do with the self-reinforcing expectations that keep bad patterns going.

    This thread especially reminded me of a mentoring class I offered to a large government agency. As part of the class we covered some inclusion issues which prompted one of the participants to share a story about applying for a promotion in the agency. Her then boss, helping her by reviewing her draft application, told her he thought she hadn’t sufficiently accentuated her accomplishments. When she replied she had created a truthful picture, he said, “Well then you’ve got to lie!” What was interesting was the reaction of other participants. Immediately other women chimed in, often with a tone of frustration or disgust, to share similar stories of being told to prevaricate or exaggerate, essentially to assert their self-enhancement strategy in order to get a job or otherwise be successful. What was fascinating was the reaction of men in the class who agreed that such dissembling was essential and that people (women) who didn’t do it were fooling themselves about the nature of the workplace and promotional process. Kind of an “everybody does it” response. But the conversation had not yet really even begun. It began at the point the HR Director for a branch of the agency turned to the original speaker and told her that her boss “never said that.” “Never said what?” she asked. “Never said to lie on your application.” “Well, yes he did!” she said. “I was there. That’s what he said!” “I’m sure you misunderstood,” he went on. By then, the class has firmly divided between men and women taking part in a highly emotional argument about whether or not to dismiss the experience of the woman who had told her story — quite honestly it seemed to me.

    This is almost to me a parable of how and why self-enhancement strategies are so frequent and powerful — along with the more psychological explanation that I offered earlier. In male dominated environments the assertion that self-promotion is a necessary lie for gain was supported by men as if a) nothing is wrong here and b) it never happened in the first place. Such are the social control mechanisms by which bad behavior becomes a widespread norm.

  • I really like your characterization of the difference between self-esteem and self-appreciation as the difference between quantity and process – your elaboration on self-esteem as a quantity reminds me of Stephen Covey’s notion of an emotional bank account and Tom Rath and Donald Clifton’s notion of a bucket and a dipper. I wrote a blog post about filling buckets, online and offline almost four years ago, after reading Rath & Clifton’s book “How Full is Your Bucket”, but I hadn’t thought about how I can fill my own bucket (through self-appreciation) … until reading your comment.

    I, too, enjoyed danah’s response to Clay’s provocation … and would also highly recommend Venessa Miemis’ response, How To Be a Woman in a Man’s World.

    Your story about the silence and denial of men regarding the appropriateness and prevalence of prevaricating promotional practices reminds me of a number of Martin Luther King quotes. I’ll include one below:

    History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

    [And in my search for appropriate alliterative terms, I discovered that the root of prevaricate is “to act in collusion” … making it even more appropriate in this context than I’d initially intended.]

  • That discussion with the gov agency and HR guy is horrifying Dan!

    The ability to appreciate is a gift. I love the light that you shed on the pathway from appreciation to growth. This gives me more roadway to utilize intent.

  • Diane Desjardins wrote:

    Appreciation is one of my favorite filter in the way I see and feel my life.

    My epiphany: a few years ago, I decide to appraise myself: I played a kind of game in imagining that I would meet a woman that was my clone. Would I like her ? Would I appreciate her ? Would I want to be her friend ?

    And there it was: YES I want to be her friend. I do not judge my friend, I appreciate their contribution into my life, I do not measure their worth by their job, money, status, ability to choose the right wine, their appearance, age, etc. So why would I under appreciate me ? I am my best friend, now, and I don’t have to lie about my talents, values, career path.

    The other thing that resulted from that epiphany, is that I can now appreciate everything that come into my life. I am serene inside even when there is turbulence. I see myself as a friend playing in a game with all her passion, courage, talents and good will. And I cheer for her !

    I have now time to appreciate people who are different than me almost as much as people that share values, experiences, taste in chocolate cake. They are different yes, but they contribute to the game and I love to play.

    There is a richness in my life since I put my focus on what works, what embellish life, what increase my energy, the kindness of others. More often than not, it does not require money, or maybe just a little.

    Being grateful seem to bring more nice experiences into my life. And I am please to say that people find me more fun to be around.

    I wonder why it is not more prevalent in our society? Could it be that it does not promote “spending to be happy” ? And that our economy need a lot of buyers, not happy persons?

    We play a lot of mind games. The trick is to choose the one that will put us in a state of joy. Appreciation is a way to acknowledge all that bring that joy in our life, to remember that we are happy.

    P.S. I love your Chloé!

  • dave

    That whole thing about appreciation and growth has been a wonderful discovery to me and I’m glad you sense it, too! Thanks very much for dropping by and for commenting.

  • Diane

    Such a lovely epiphany about being one’s own best friend! Thank you for sharing that with everyone who reads this thread.

    You ask an important question about why more people do not follow a similar path, why appreciation itself seems to be under appreciated. I think it is one of those issues where even if you try to say it and explain it, it simply may not be heard. The act of appreciation, the act of gratitude does begin with an inner openness, I believe. But can that come before you are I are ready? Our stories, at their best, often resolve when the main character at last comes to some moment of appreciation and insight — what could be more natural? — yet it is an “at last.” It can take awhile to come through the fire. For many, as you have noticed, our culture seems to thrive on distraction from the individual’s inner path and journey, suggesting that happiness is found in accumulation. But, of course, that just delays the moment of arrival.

    Thank you again for coming here and sharing your own path of discovery.

    And, ah yes, my little cat, she is a gem!

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