I am supervising exams this week at my school. Right now I am covering another teacher’s class while he has a break. This is a grade eleven math class, and if they have questions I will be of no use to them at all. I did pass math in high school but that was a very long time ago now.
What I see in front of me is a group of twenty some students with calculators, papers, and pencils. They glance back and forth between their exam, the calculator and the booklet. Some are looking off into space as if praying for divine inspiration or intervention, others are hunched right over their desks. There are looks of determination, fear, and the occasional wry smile as we briefly make eye contact. There is near silence, papers turn, pencils scratch and feet shift on the floor, but there is no talking.
When you walk into an exam room, prepared or not, you know that in the next two hours your work will be judged. If you have a good day and a following wind, your exam mark may raise your over-all grade but you know that it is more likely to go the other way. On the up side, when the hours are over, so is the course and in June that means summer break!
Many of our life evaluations, however, do not take place in a classroom and are not neatly scheduled and limited to a two-hour block of time. We are often not even aware that we are being tested; that a customer is forming judgments about our competence or friendliness; that a student is deciding whether or not we are trustworthy enough to ask for help; total strangers may be deciding whether we are doing a good job raising our children. We will never know the results of most of these tests. Unless a customer goes to complain or compliment we won’t realize that they don’t return to the store or that they avoid our check-out. The student who decides against us will just walk away, and we almost certainly will not hear the strangers opinion of our parenting.
Whether or not we have any right to evaluate the people we meet and work with, we do it naturally. Unless you are a person’s supervisor or they do something hurtful to you, I see no reason that we should share negative feedback with them. Neither do we need to share with a person the nasty thing we heard someone else say about them, though we might want to defend a friend with the person doing the criticism. What I think we do need to be doing, however, is telling people when we think positive things about them, or when we hear someone else making a positive comment about them.
We don’t hear enough positive feedback. Certainly we don’t tend to give ourselves positive feedback, we tend to focus on our flaws and our failures. This does little good, and contributes a great deal to our level of stress. It may be as little as a smile or the like button on Face Book, or as big as nominations for awards or letters of thanks, but we need to praise more, encourage more, love more!