Recognition can make a day, change a life: Power of appreciation | Sunday Observer

Recognition can make a day, change a life: Power of appreciation

Early one morning, long years ago, my secretary asked whether I could accompany her to deposit some money in her bank account... I agreed because she rarely made such requests.

At the bank, while we stood in the queue, a distinguished-looking lady with her hands full of documents walked up from the entrance, wearing an expression of deep concentration. As she came opposite us, her face suddenly lightened. Pausing for few seconds, she smiled with my secretary and said, “My, you look really nice!” and briskly walked towards her destination.

My secretary blushed, and buoyed by a stranger's recognition of her efforts to look attractive, she lifted her chin, straightened her shoulders and smiled.

I suddenly wondered why I hadn't made such a remark myself. I had always valued my secretary’s taste and standards, but had never put that appreciation into words.

Perhaps, that is what recognition really is - appreciation expressed.


Appreciation is a remarkably strong untapped energy all of us possesses. We just need to know how to use it. Science confirms that when you think and feel appreciation (not simple gratitude, but powerful valuing), amazing changes happen – from a calming of your heartbeat and increased brain function to satisfying interactions at home and at work. All it takes is a change in focus. Often, we fail to bring it out of self-doubt or the expectation that people can read our minds.

The rare occasion when it is tendered usually comes at the end of a career - or even at the end of a life. But, the spontaneous acknowledgment of excellence exhibited by average people involved in routine work, like the unsolicited salute is so nourishing to the spirit. This is the sort of recognition that can make a day, halo a year, change a life.


I once asked the son of a college mate how he happened to become a doctor. He told me that he had been a wild and difficult boy, always in trouble, and the object of consistent, deserved criticism.

He said, he was about to be suspended from school, when he met his favourite art teacher while he was in the Primary Section. He explained to her what happened. She said something to him that he could never forget.

In the clutter of accusations and pleas beating around his ears, her remark rang out like a clarion: “You have the most marvellous, sensitive hands. You won over five awards while you were young. That skill is still there. Surely you can make use of them in the future.”

He managed to stay in school after that discussion and ended up as an eye surgeon. "1 couldn't get her four sentences out of my head,” he said. “It was a tough challenge. I took it up seriously.”

Recognition operates at many levels, some of which are very simple. I remember another incident which happened in 1970 or 71. The Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) was running at a profit and also as a disciplined outfit. Once I struggled into a crowded bus during a busy shopping season. Commuters were uncomfortably swaying in the aisle, coping with bundles and resisting with frozen stares all human contact.

The bus conductor was a fat, good-natured man with an echoing voice and a hearty, rolling laugh. As the driver steered his bus through the rush-hour traffic, he cajoled his passengers to move to the rear, winning them with good mild jokes and a few snatches from popular songs at that time.

People meekly moved to the rear. They began to become relaxed and cracked into smiles at the humorous stories and songs. Everybody began to talk to each other. Laughter burbled out and the bus began to assume the nature of a gala party.


I wrote down the driver's number. When I finally arrived home, footsore but still dazzled by the power of goodwill, I wrote a letter to the Chairman of the CTB commending the conductor. I indicated that a man who could persuade commuters to move to the rear of the bus could obviously do anything and should at least be commended - if not run for public office.

Subsequently, I received an enthusiastic reply from the Chairman informing me that my commendation had been conveyed to the driver and credited to his record. He further added that he too was touched by my comments.

In no arena, perhaps, can appreciation be more valuable than in the family. In the grinding workload of family life, virtues are taken for granted and minor irritations magnified into frustrations so that people forget to give honour where it is due. Yet, children may need recognition more than they need criticism, and their parents cannot fail to profit from making positive assessments.

A young wife once told me a story. One particular morning absolutely everything had gone wrong.

It began with her over-worked husband's inability to locate a shirt, and went on to a general dissatisfaction with the morning menu, the upsetting of a pitcher of milk on the kitchen floor and the children missing the school bus. In short, the domestic scene had deteriorated into a free-for-all with accusations at both sides.

As her husband hurtled out the door, he stuck his head back in and said: “Then why did you ever marry me in the first place?” The answer came instantly to her lips. “Because you look like Richard Burton!”

Horrified, she registered the slamming of the door and felt a dark cloud of worry descending on her.

She had married him because she loved him and his 'resemblance' to Richard Burton had been a schoolgirl fantasy.

She put in a miserable hour before the telephone rang. “You know what I like about you?” he asked, a new breeziness pervading his voice. “I can't imagine,” she softly answered.

“Your unerring judgment and superb taste,” he said, “not to mention your eye for beauty!” She smiled and said, “Thank you very much for the compliment,” and replaced the phone.