A few weeks ago, Judy Dunn of Cat’s Eye Writer, wrote about fostering and building a blogger’s community. Her advice? Give praise and compliments. Focus on the positive. Tell people when they do something that you like.
It’s a lesson she learned while monitoring first-graders on the playground. Like many such lessons, it has a broad appeal and lots of applications.
As parents, we too often get caught up in the comparison trap, wondering whether our kids measure up and, by extension, whether or not we measure up in the background. When we are standing on such uncertain, shaky ground, it’s next to impossible to toss out a line to someone else. If another parent seems to be succeeding where we feel we are not, it can be difficult to offer praise or admiration. We’re too mired in our own perceived shortcomings, that awful inner wince.
In this view, parenting is a zero-sum game, where one person’s success is exactly counterbalanced by another person’s failures. I’m trying to take a different approach, one where my successes and failures (because, let’s face it, we all have a measure of each) are simply mine, not part of a cosmic tally where our scores are continually reshuffled. In that case, building a parenting community is more like building a web, each strand supporting and in tune with the whole.
What works for parenting can work for writing as well. In the isolation of my office, tapped into a network that bursts with stories of authors who have agents and book contracts, it is easy to buy into that zero-sum thinking. It’s easy to believe, in other words, that one person’s success is a measure of my failure. The problem with zero-sum thinking in parenting and writing is that we’re almost always on the zero end; there is always someone who is doing more, or, seemingly, doing it better. The balance will never end up in our favor. Much better for our parenting, our writing (and our mental health) to offer up a full measure of praise for the writing that inspires us, the journeys that make us gasp in admiration.
As Judy Dunn writes in her post on building a blogging community, it is easier to point out flaws than strengths. We tend to settle into the complacency of our steady expectations, not rocking the boat unless something goes wrong. If we shift those expectations — of ourselves, of others — to include a measure of gratitude and praise, we transform the communities that count us as members.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be doing just that — offering up short lists of parents, writers, and bloggers who inspire me. Please look for those lists in the weeks to come, and, in the meantime, tell me in the comments, what inspires you today? Who can you praise? What community can you foster?