The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: We All Need Some Form of Outward Appreciation on a Regular Basis

By Shouse, Deborah | Newsweek, May 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: We All Need Some Form of Outward Appreciation on a Regular Basis


Shouse, Deborah, Newsweek


WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, I ENVIED SALLY CULVER. Though she was five years younger, she had somehow managed to get herself a fan club. It began one summer evening, when Mrs. Culver brought her 1-year-old daughter, Sally, to our house.

"I want to show you the most remarkable thing," Mrs. Culver told my mother. She set the baby down on our driveway, and Sally, diaper rustling, took a step. "Bravo!" Mrs. Culver said, clapping. "Wasn't that just marvelous?" she asked, turning to me. I was standing back, my jump rope in hand, wondering why anyone would make such a big deal over walking.

"Weren't her legs just the straightest things you've ever seen?" Mrs. Culver gushed to my mother. "Her posture is exceptional," my mother said. I took a breath and stood up straighter. My mother didn't notice. Sally took two steps before she plopped down. Again, applause. This time my mother joined in.

I untangled my rope and jumped 10 times in a row without missing. No one noticed. My mother was too busy clapping and cheering for Sally. It was my first experience with the power of applause.

Assemblies, school plays, recitals, graduations -- growing up there were at least annual occasions for ovations. As an adult, I frequently give applause, sitting in audiences, pounding my hands noisily to show my support for singers, lecturers, writers, athletes, actors. Yet my personal life seems curiously devoid of such tangible appreciation.

I never seize an oval ball and run gloriously down a long field; nor do I sing with a lilting voice that moves the heart and wets the eyes; I don't receive awards for designing tall buildings or saving lives. And so, I miss out on generous encouragement and enthusiastic support.

Some days my personality is rusty and hormonal; my feelings seep from my suit sleeves. On these days, when I ignore the part of myself that wants to curl up in a comfortable cave and forget the predatory world, I think I deserve applause for simply getting in the car and showing up at work. In the interests of those of us who want praise, I've developed a scenario for such days: a day of two hands clapping. Here's how it might work.

I drive my children to school. As they collect their book bags, their extra tennis shoes, the book report that has already fallen in the mud, a team of mothers surrounds my car. "Great job of getting your kids to school on time," they say, applauding approvingly. A phalanx of teachers lines the school's front hallway, clapping for the kids: "Thanks for agreeing to come in for learning," they cheer.

At work, my associates give me a standing ovation when I arrive. "You are so responsible," they say. I bask in the praise. At lunch, I ask myself, "Which is more heroic, singing an aria onstage, or leaving a beautiful spring day, to return to a windowless room and a stoic computer?" I appreciate my co-workers lining the halls, cheering and whistling as I dutifully return.

At the end of the workday, I drag myself through the grocery store. …

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