Cheerful to a Fault: “Positive” Practices with Negative Implications – Alfie Kohn

One in a long series of excellent posts from Alfie Kohn, this time examining the problem of praise. The problem with praise and related things mostly only arises when you praise the person, not what they do. All too often it is a rather unpleasant means of asserting authority, and thus it causes a focus on meeting extrinsic goals, to the detriment of the intrinsic pleasure of doing something. We all need feedback, and it is great to know how we are doing through someone else’s eyes, but it’s much too easy for helpful reactions to turn into extremely unhelpful judgement, much too simple for that to reinforce or establish unhealthy power relationships, and absurdly easy for that to become the reason for doing something.

The post covers other issues too, notably the risks of too much focus on happiness and cheerfulness (neither of which are always appropriate responses to circumstances). I particularly like his translation of “Only Positive Attitudes Allowed Beyond This Point.”  as meaning “My Mental Health Is So Precarious That I Need All of You to Pretend You’re Happy.”

Address of the bookmark: http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/cheerful

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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