Friday, November 16, 2012
In praise of limiting praise: when a little goes a long way
There are perfectly good reasons why I refuse to shower my children with compliments all the time.
"DO YOU like it?" asks my seven-year-old.
"What is it?"
"It's a pineapple," says the budding Cezanne.
"Then why is it orange?" I reply. He looks up from his drawing of a fruit bowl with a crestfallen expression.
I am, once again, pricked by guilt at my poor parenting. I know I am meant to compliment him, but I just can't bring myself to do so when his felt-tip on A4 effort lacks perspective, scale, or any skill.
His flurry of tries at the weekend's tag-rugby match were warmly applauded, his seven-letter effort while watching Countdown was high-fived. But to praise him for a dismal drawing, where the pear and the banana are indistinguishable from each other seems perverse.
I refuse to do so, even if it causes a sulk. But I am fighting a losing battle. A report this week provides more ammunition to those who would wreathe the world in a garland of compliments.
A team of Japanese researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences has discovered that the more a person is complimented the more the striatum part of their brain is stimulated, and the better they perform a task. "Compliments are as good as cash at making us work harder," ran the ensuing headline.
I am not convinced. Apart from the fact this is another "scientific study" with about as much rigour as an investigation into the nation's favourite dog food based on the droolings of 10 poodles, there is something fundamentally flawed about the conclusion.
Professor Sadato, our man in a lab coat who tested a grand total of 48 people, says: "There seems to be scientific validity behind the message 'praise to encourage improvement'. Complimenting someone could become an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom."
That is precisely the problem. Paying a compliment is easy. And we have done it all too often in the name of building self-esteem in children.
My children frequently come back with "Headteacher's Award" silver stickers on their primary-school jumpers. When I inquire what they have been given for - hoping to hear a stirring tale of how Fermat's theorem was cracked in break time - I hear the inevitable: "Oh, everyone in our class got one."
This is in sharp contrast to the school I attended. The headmaster was the formidable Dennis Silk, an old-fashioned, eagle-headed figure who equated the wearing of suede shoes with drug taking. However, he had charm and manners in spades and would dash off what were known as "silkograms", carefully constructed gushes of praise to his pupils. They were incredibly rare. You were lucky to receive one a year and they were only sent after some heroic act on the playing field or classroom. To see his scrawling black ink on an envelope was enough to make your heart jump with pride.
But it was the rarity, as unusual as a $100 note in a supermarket ATM, that made them so valuable.
Now, people expect to be complimented on a daily basis. One of my most awkward meals was at a disappointing French restaurant when the chef, with Napoleonic self-regard, toured the tables scouting for compliments at the end of the meal. I tried to slink further down in my seat in the hope he would bypass our table. But, no, like a potty-training baby, he wanted to be applauded for doing his job. I mumbled that, yes, the meal was nice. "But what did you like about it?" he pushed.
It is just not very British to offer compliments, especially when they are sought out by a needy supplicant.
Dr Jean Twenge, the psychologist and author of The Narcissism Epidemic, points out this culture of compliments "puts the cart before the horse". Surely, when we work hard and perform well at school or at our businesses we develop high self-esteem, not the other way around.
And when it comes to persuading me to stay late in the office, it is no contest whether a compliment or a pay rise, is likely to work. My editor knows where to find my bank account details.
Tories won't win if we don't back gay marriage, says Britain's Chancellor: But party Right urges him to focus on 'the issues that really matter
Osborne attended "public" (fee-paying) schools in his youth and one could perhaps note an old saying about British public schools: "In British Public schools, homosexuality is not so much permitted as compulsory"
George Osborne launched an emphatic defence of gay marriage yesterday, saying the Tories will not win the next election unless they drop their opposition to it. He urged the party to emulate US President Barack Obama by appealing to young voters and women with a socially liberal message.
But the Chancellor's intervention provoked anger on the Tory Right, with campaigners claiming that proposals to legalise gay marriage could cost the Conservatives more than a million votes and 30 seats.
One MP said the 'social liberal values of Notting Hill don't translate well outside the M25', while a former Tory minister warned that Army chaplains could face the sack if they disagree with the plans.
Writing in The Times, Mr Osborne said most voters support gay marriage and politicians should 'reflect the modern societies they aspire to lead'. He quoted Margaret Thatcher saying the Tories should respond to 'people and how they want to live their lives'.
The Coalition has pledged to legalise gay marriage before 2015, but it is not part the Government's current legislative programme.
However, Mr Osborne used his article to argue that it is a vital plank of Conservative re- election plans. He said the party should heed the lessons of Mr Obama's election success despite poor economic conditions.
In a robust shot across the bows of the Tory Right, Mr Osborne said voters on both sides of the Atlantic want economic toughness and social liberalism.
He added that Mr Obama sealed victory once he started making the case that the deficit should be tackled and showed that he 'was on the side of ordinary, hard- working voters'.
But crucially, he said the Tories, like Mr Obama's opponent Mitt Romney, could lose supporters who agree with them on the economy if they are not in tune with them on social issues as well.
He wrote: 'President Obama's high-profile endorsement of equal marriage for gay couples enthused younger voters. But polls found that a majority of all Americans supported him on the issue and voted for it in all four states that held ballots.'
Mr Osborne continued: 'I wouldn't change the current abortion laws and I strongly support gay marriage on principle. I am proud to be part of a government that will introduce a Bill to allow gay marriage.
'It is worth reflecting that in Britain, as in America, a clear majority of the public support gay marriage, and an even bigger majority of women support it.
'That majority support is just as high in the North as it is the South, and it is equally high among all socio-economic groups.
Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth has warned the Ministry of Defence that military chaplains could be sacked if they oppose gay marriage
Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth has warned the Ministry of Defence that military chaplains could be sacked if they oppose gay marriage
'Successful political parties reflect the modern societies they aspire to lead. As Margaret Thatcher said in the first sentence of her introduction to the 1979 Conservative election manifesto: “The heart of politics is not political theory, it is people and how they want to live their lives”.'
The Coalition for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, dismissed Mr Osborne's claims and announced that it will campaign in tomorrow's Corby by-election against a redefinition of the institution. Colin Hart, the organisation's campaign director, said: 'The PM and the Chancellor must stop misleading the public. The polls actually show that a majority of voters do not support the redefinition of marriage.
'It's time for senior politicians – particularly Mr Cameron, Clegg and Osborne – to get a grip and start talking about the issues that really matter, like reviving the economy, not redefining marriage.'
He highlighted a poll by the research consultancy ComRes that found that redefining marriage could cost the Tories up to 30 parliamentary seats and 1.1million votes. 'Ordinary people in places like Corby want action on the economy and public services, not meddling with marriage,' he said.
Tory backbencher Stewart Jackson said: 'The focus should be less on these social liberal obsessions of West London and more on blue-collar issues like the cost of living, mortgages and reducing taxes for families. 'The social liberal values of Notting Hill don't translate well outside the M25.'
Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth has written to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warning that military chaplains face being disciplined if the Government forces through its plans.
He wrote: 'Under the Government's proposals if the definition of marriage is rewritten, then those chaplains who maintain their support for the traditional/biblical meaning could face disciplinary action and even dismissal.'
The former minister also dismisses recent assurances from the Government that it can protect churches from prosecution.
He said: 'The Government is keen to assert that no clergy declining to offer a marriage service to homosexuals will be subject to discrimination or penalty, an undertaking ministers are in no position to give since the interpretation of any new law will rest with the courts and, ultimately, the impertinent European Court of Human Rights.'
Why women expect too much from men in bed
SOMEWHERE in Britain there is a very lucky man. The unnamed individual is, according to reports at the weekend, being divorced by his wife, a high-flying city banker, on the grounds, inter alia, that he is "boring" in bed and refuses to take part in the kind of bedroom antics popularised by the raunchy blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey.
Well done, that man! He is not only escaping what sounds like a miserable marriage ("Thank you for whipping me, darling, but you forgot the handcuffs"), but in doing so - he's admitting "unreasonable behaviour" for a quick divorce - he is striking a blow for his sex. Like Bradley Wiggins, like Mo Farah, he can go into any pub in the country and know that every man there would be happy to buy him a drink if only they knew his story.
Up to now, Fifty Shades has been no more than a bad literary joke, a triumph of marketing over substance. Millions have bought E.L. James' execrable novel about a sadomasochistic affair between a billionaire entrepreneur and a naive literature student, and millions have wished they had kept their money in their pocket.
But now that the book is being deployed as a weapon in the marital bedroom, with wives using James' saturnine billionaire as a benchmark against which to measure their husbands, the joking has to stop. This is war, with men in the firing line and common sense the first casualty.
Feminists are rightly quick to censure the kind of male-inspired pornography which pressures women into behaving like Swedish nymphomaniacs with pneumatic breasts. But isn't E.L. James guilty of much the same, peddling unattainable sexual fantasies, setting wife against husband, introducing the worm of dissatisfaction into solid, if unspectacular, relationships?
And it gets worse. You would assume that men of retirement age would not be feeling under the same pressure to perform in the bedroom as men who still have their own teeth and hair, but you would be wrong, judging by the latest women's "romantic" novel to shoot up the bestseller lists, confounding the pundits.
Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd features a sexually frustrated pensioner (married to a man who has given up on sex) who meets the man of her dreams while looking after her grandchildren in the park.
If Fifty Shades of Grey is "mummy porn" in marketing jargon, Thursdays in the Park is "gran-lit", a steamy tale of sex and sixtysomethings - the Kama Sutra meets Antiques Roadshow.
The novel sank without trace when it was published last year, but is now topping the charts in its ebook edition and outselling E. L. James. It is certainly an intriguing storyline and you can see why it has caught on with the public, even in our youth-obsessed times. With Charles Dance said to be in negotiations for a film version, Thursdays in the Park could spark the same kind of buying frenzy as Fifty Shades. You don't even have to go into a bookshop to purchase it: you can get your jollies by downloading the book in the privacy of your own home - perfect for retiring spinsters with vivid imaginations.
"Old people falling in love and having passionate relationships is not a story that's had much exposure before, but I'm in no doubt that the market's out there," says Boyd, a 62-year-old grandmother, adding: "All I can say is that sex in the park beats sex in the basement."
Who would argue with that? And in finding the sex lives of mature people far more interesting than those of teenagers, she is following a tradition as old as Antony and Cleopatra.
It is good, other things being equal, that women writers are producing novels of sexual exploration which challenge and subvert the works of their male counterparts. And it is good that older people are being presented in a positive, outgoing light, not portrayed as sexually extinct.
Jane Juska's bestselling 2003 memoir, A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, tapped into the same market. Its bittersweet account of a 66-year-old woman, seeking no-strings sex via an ad in the New York Review of Books, struck a chord with mothers and grandmothers who, after years of making sacrifices for their families, dreamt of putting the sex into sexagenarian.
But it is one thing to celebrate grey sex, another to encourage delusional attitudes, as Fifty Shades of Grey does. When the dividing line between daily life and escapist fiction becomes blurred, when women expect their partners to satisfy their most intimate needs as if it was as easy as unlocking handcuffs, we are all the losers. Shouldn't a book with a title like Fifty Shades of Grey alert readers to the fact that life is nuanced, and not perfect?
But, one way and another, it is going to be an uncomfortable time to be a male of the species. We don't mind trying our hands at this multi-tasking malarkey, but do we have to become proficient with handcuffs and find out how to give sexual satisfaction to women born when George VI was on the throne? Time to reach for the remote, I think.
Eyes are averted from indigenous abuse
Australian conservative commentator Gerard Henderson on the Leftist "blacks can do no wrong" gospel
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's, decision to establish a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has received overwhelmingly public support. We know, on the available evidence, that the wide-ranging and expensive inquiry will focus on past crimes and whether people in authority, in Gillard's terminology, "averted their eyes" with respect to abusers.
We also know, on the available evidence, that indigenous children in some Aboriginal communities are being sexually assaulted in 2012. Despite the efforts of Commonwealth, state and territory authorities, these crimes continue. Moreover, regrettably, there is scant public outrage about this contemporary abuse.
Sections of the media have focused on the Catholic Church's deplorable inability in the past century to stop the crimes of some priests and some brothers with respect to primarily male children.
However, as the Jesuit priest Frank Brennan said on Lateline, the Catholic Church reformed its handling of sex abuse allegations in 1996. Soon after Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he set up the Melbourne Response, which was aimed at confronting abuse of children by clerics and assisting victims.
The terms of reference for the royal commission will be announced before the end of the year. However, the Prime Minister has indicated the inquiry will not be limited to the Catholic Church or, indeed, other Christian churches. All religions will be covered, as will secular bodies. This approach is supported by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. On Tuesday, child migrant David Hill said "you won't hear only kids from Catholic institutions coming forward … I think it will go to all of the children's institutions over the last 40, 50 years".
The Gillard government faces a difficult task in drawing up appropriate terms of reference. If they are too limited, there will probably be accusations of a cover-up. If they are too wide, the financial costs could be huge and the inquiry might drag on for years with few if any recommendations of prosecutions.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney is a media target. Many journalists do not like Pell since he is a moral conservative who publicly upholds the Vatican's teachings on abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce.
Pell was interviewed by Geoff Thompson for the Four Corners "Unholy Silence" program which aired in July. The Cardinal made it emphatically clear that, as Archbishop of Sydney, he is only responsible for his own diocese and reports to the Vatican.
Four Corners not only failed to run Pell's comment. More seriously, it edited the extended interview (which is on the ABC's website) and deleted the Cardinal's comment about the extent of his authority. This reeks of censorship but the decision has been supported by ABC managing director Mark Scott.
The failure to understand the structure of the Catholic Church has led to confusion. In recent days there has been criticism of Pell on such programs as Lateline, Mornings with Linda Mottram, Radio National Breakfast and Paul Murray Live where suggestions have been made that he should resign or be sacked because of mishandling of sexual assaults in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. The journalists involved should be aware that Pell has nothing to do with, and is not responsible for, the Catholic Church in the Hunter region or anywhere else outside the Sydney archdiocese. He is the most senior Catholic in Australia but he is not managing director of the Australian Catholic Church.
The media would be well advised not to adopt double standards when dealing with child molestation. It is now accepted the late Sir Jimmy Savile was one of the worst paedophiles in British history.
Yet the media initially engaged in a cover-up. Freelance journalist Miles Goslett could not get his article linking the long-time BBC star with attacks on young girls published and had to rely on The Oldie, where his article was printed last March. As is now known, the BBC spiked a Newsnight program on Savile's criminality so as not to upset a program scheduled for Christmas 2011 praising the molester.
And then there is the case of the late Fairfax columnist Peter Roebuck. Roebuck's work for the ABC as a cricket commentator increased after he was convicted of common assault on two young African men. There are now claims that Roebuck was a sexual predator who targeted young black males.
Despite this, when Roebuck died last year he was lauded by journalists - particularly at Fairfax and the ABC. Even yesterday, sections of the media remembered the first anniversary of Roebuck's death but conveniently forgot that he was an offender.
The good news is that the proposed royal commission will cover all instances of child abuse and not just crimes committed by Catholic clergy. Tragically, it is not likely to stop attacks on young Aboriginal boys and girls.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.