Even the all-knowing Wikipedia doesn’t describe where applause originated. They say it’s as old as humanity. Basically, it came about as a noise-making action to signify approval for an accomplishment and it has become universal. But I’ve been noticing and thinking about why and how we applaud for things that happen. Obviously, we applaud for entertainment events like concerts and sports accomplishments, but there are so many other things worthy of applause for which we take no action. A chef makes a great meal and does not get applause, let alone a direct compliment. A kid gets an ‘A’ in her class and she gets no public recognition. (More often than not, she has to hide the fact that she got the ‘A’.) It comes down to emotion, surprise, and crowds watching something happen. Often applause is just given as a polite gesture for something that we don’t even like that much.
I suppose we can’t extend applause to consistently cover any good accomplishment. If people applauded in restaurants or at the dry cleaners for something delivered in a timely manner, the establishment would be a fiasco. We all know how rare good customer service is these days. It truly is applause-worthy. Hmm. Maybe applause would lead to better customer service.
For non-public, non-entertaining accomplishments, we sometimes give verbal compliments, but those can be tricky. Or at work, we resort to emails which can seem fake and they fill up inboxes. It would be great if one-on-one applause was OK. Why not? It can be done quietly. Then, nothing needs to be said either. No word-smithing required. No misinterpretations.
Sometimes applause goes too far. Standing ovations are over-used and they instill a sense of obligation from those seated. If you give a standing-‘O’ against your will, you are misleading the performers into thinking that you really like the performance and you have to get off your seat and stand up. If you don’t stand up to applaud, then you can’t see over those who are standing and you look like a grump who doesn’t want to compliment others.
Applause isn’t easy to know how to use and it sure can be hard to earn. It really depends on a few people starting it up and then others follow. But if they’re just following others, it doesn’t mean as much.
It would be nice if you applaud after reading this blog post. Maybe record the video on your phone and email it to me.