Why is praise so powerful?
No, wait. Let me reword that.
Why is genuine praise so powerful?
Because it is so rarely given.
There are numerous reasons why this is the case but few have any substance. Being busy may excuse a time or two when we fail to praise but it is hardly an on-going excuse. Being distracted by our own problems is another nifty rationalization but that too has a time limit. Besides that, everyone is beset by problems.
The power of genuine praise is that the recipient knows it didn't have to be given. It is the opposite of the unnecessary insult. Like that evil cousin, it can be long remembered.
I can recall acts of unnecessary kindness that were bestowed upon me many years ago, some by strangers. Not one of the instances involved extravagant praise and yet each was powerful.
But on the field of praise versus insult, there is a middle realm: silence. That area is filled with sins of omission: the time when we should have defended a friend but remained silent; the moments when a few words of encouragement might have saved someone from humiliation or despair; the notes we didn't write; the kindnesses we just took for granted; and in all of them we just wandered on with life and told ourselves we had reasons, other priorities, as if those were admirable rationalizations.
Each instance was a lost opportunity to strengthen, even in a small way, another person.
And, deep inside, we know it might have been in a large way.