What Should We Praise in Others?

The two features that make a quality or achievement praiseworthy, according to Seneca

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Image by Irina Gromovataya from Pixabay

“Praise in him what can neither be given nor snatched away.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

You have such a beautiful house.

You’re gorgeous like a model.

Wow, you have so many followers. You’re famous!

Your dad’s awesome. He’s such a popular and powerful governor.

These, according to Seneca, are not the right things to praise.

Wealth. What better example than money of something that can be given and taken away? Such is the case with easy money as well as hard earned money. The easy kind is easily pilfered -which is one reason millionaires create strictly worded trusts for their kids.

Even the hard earned kind can vanish, and not just through theft. It can easily and unexpectedly shrink, as is happening with many people’s nest eggs during this crisis.

Looks: As my mom says, age is unforgiving to all.

Fame: The famous depend on followers and fans to be famous. Their devotion is not guaranteed. They can as easily give it as withdraw it.

Political power: Whatever the system, power depends on others. In a democracy, those in power must be elected. The military dictator needs the support of the military. No matter the size of the coalition, the powerful need enough of it to back them.

Seneca asks us not to praise lightly.

This is especially difficult for me. I enjoy praising people often and profusely.

Sorry Seneca, but I believe I’ll continue to do so, even if the achievements I praise are not praiseworthy according to you.

What I will do is think long and hard about which virtues and achievements adhere to Seneca’s guidelines and try to call attention to them more.

I’ll start with the following four individuals: my son who’s sheltering in place in New York City, and the three people I’m quarantined with:

To my husband: You are uniquely generous.

To my son Diego: The purity of your affection is a gift.

To my friend Pati: How did you become so brave?

To my son Andres: You’re the best listener I know.

What praiseworthy qualities do those around you have?

Seventh piece for a 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.


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