By Baroness Brianna Je Nell Aislynn of Blue Shadows
Writing recommendation letters for awards is an excellent way to see someone acknowledged. The only draw back, is that awards are given at the discretion of the Crown. Once the letter is sent, you really have no control over whether or not the accolade will be given. I am not suggesting that people stop writing letters. On the contrary, more need to be written, as there are many who deserve to be recognized. What I am suggesting is that there are additional ways to recognize those you deem worthy.
How many times have you thought "What a wonderful (fill in the blank here)" as someone has walked by, but never said a word? Why? Were you shy? Afraid? Embarrassed? Did you feel there that there was such a disparity in rank that you could not speak with that person? Each of us has a certain level of insecurity, no matter what our rank or title. This is true of the freshest newcomer to the oldest dinosaur. There may be no real cure for the insecurity, but there are habits you can develop to combat it. One of the most productive of these is to praise others. It has the advantage of serving both sides of the interaction. It gladdens the heart of the recipient and it ennobles the giver. At the most basic level, it conveys the message "You have value, you are worthy".
Like everything else, learning to praise effectively is a skill that comes with practice. It is also, to my mind, a responsibility that increases as one's rank increases. I would like to recommend a few practice exercises. I know from experience that they work. I've seen amazing results when they are applied with sincerity. They've also been used effectively on me by family and friends (Randwulf is very good at them and provided several insights for this article).
The simplest is to practice giving sincere compliments. They do not have to be flowery or involved, just a simple expression of something you like about someone. You can compliment what they are wearing, a kind act you observed them performing, their honor or anything else you respect or admire. Frequently, the compliment is proceeded with the words "Thank you for doing " I have heard many anecdotes where the teller was having a bad time in life and someone gave them a compliment that allowed them to carry on. Sometimes the compliment came from someone they admired and respected. More often, it was from someone they didn't know. The knowledge that they had made a difference gave them strength and a renewed sense of purpose.
Try not to be offended if the person has trouble accepting the compliment. Oddly enough, some of the most admirable people don't understand why they are special. These people have the hardest time accepting that someone values them. Be sincere, don't gush and be prepared to have to repeat or reinforce the sentiments (gently!) when they try to deflect them.
Learn to accept compliments with grace. You cannot help someone learn to give praise effectively, if they do not have someone to practice on. It is almost surprising at how elegant the simple words "Thank you" can be. This is frequently one of the hardest lessons, as most people find it much easier to give a compliment than to receive one. The corollary is: learn to accept help with grace. No one can practice the courtesy of assisting if there is no one to assist. If you want to know how difficult this one is, ask Their Excellencies Thorvald and Eloise (notably independent types) how hard it was to let others "do" for them when they first stepped up.
Be truly happy to see someone. There is no greater compliment than a sincere smile and eyes that glow with pleasure at someone's approach. Think about how you felt the last time someone you came into contact with looked genuinely happy to see you.
Be willingly to expend as much energy giving compliments as making complaints. Most people will go out of their way to file a grievance or make a complaint when they are unhappy with quality or service. Make sure that you go to the same effort to tell someone when he or she has done something to please you.
Congratulate the winner. The winner of any contest is the person who displayed honor and chivalry, regardless of whether or not they won the actual competition. The pleasure of this is that you can sincerely congratulate all participants, with personal comments on individual outstanding achievements.
Encourage and/or believe in someone. It is amazing what people can accomplish when someone else thinks they can do something, even when they, themselves, don't think they can. If possible, tell them how past accomplishments and displays of talent support this belief.
There is one other form of verbal praise, though it is not always done in the presence of the subject. From the time we are small we are told not to talk behind someone's back. Be it parent, teacher, priest/ess or civic leader, someone has told us not to gossip. I would suggest an exception would be commenting on how wonderful someone is or on the excellence of his or her actions. Until recently, I did not have a good name for this phenomenon. My thanks to Baroness Siobhan for explaining the concept of Wordfame. It is the action of telling others what you like or admire about a third party. It can be done in a public venue like court, or it can be set forth during a private conversation. The location is not as important as making sure that what is said is positive.
Reinforce behaviors you approve of. You may be the only person that noticed a generous act. Make sure that it is acknowledged. Reward the actions you find worthy of approbation. I saw Queen Carolyn remove a broach from Her gown at one Pentathlon Court and pin it on a member of Her Guard in thanks for apprehending a stranger entering Her hotel room unannounced. In doing so, I believe She provided us with an excellent model of chivalrous reward.
Rewards can range from the simple to the extravagant: anything from a few words in private to lavish gifts. There are some that carry tokens with them to give to those who have pleased them by some act of kindness or chivalry. I have seen silk or ribbon flowers, buttons, favors, ribbons and candy given as tokens. For more elaborate thanks, I have seen great gifts of rings, jewelry, pavilions, clothing and furniture given in appreciation for someone's actions. I do recall some years ago, that the various costumers in Calafia banded together and made clothing for Master Robert to show him how much the Barony appreciated his many good works. He was being "praised" for his talents with the talents from others in the Barony. I do think that tokens of esteem or praise are a good idea. They can be a physical manifestation of the ideals we hold dear.
For the more experienced practitioner may I suggest these more subtle forms:
As you become more involved in the SCA and move up in rank, you will find you have less and less time for everything. Your time and attention become increasingly precious commodities. Spend these as lavishly as possible on others on a continuous basis. You tacitly confirm a person's value by doing so. One of my most treasured memories as a newcomer, was of the tourney where Their Majesties Armand and Diana stopped and spoke to me as if I were a friend. I felt that if these almost godlike beings took the time to interact with me, I must be truly wanted as a member. The fact that they continued to speak with me over the years in the same fashion inspired me to want to become more like them. I am just now beginning to understand how gracious the gift of their attention was.
Invite people to join you when you are working on something. Asking someone to assist because you think they have the necessary skills or talents is a great compliment. Be careful of your motives. Make sure that the person really knows they were asked because you truly wanted and needed them and not just so that you can use them. Make very sure that everyone is acknowledged and thanked afterward.
And now for the truly selfish reason to acknowledge others: to avoid the pain of "too late". Too long did I wait to tell Master Grimm Finch how much I admired him and now I never can. Not enough, did I tell Lord Phelan how special I thought he was and how much I valued him. In their memory and for those you will soon make happy, I dedicate this commentary.
Copyright 2000 by Je Nell Hays
Permission to reprint this article for use in the Society for Creative Aanachronism is granted so long as the complete article is printed with proper attribution to the author using both her modern name and SCA equivalent. Please notify the author if this article is included in any SCA publication or used as reference material in a class.
Copyright 2000 by Je Nell Hays
Last updated on 11/16/00 (P) ...firstname.lastname@example.org