Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

. . . and a Paula Abdul too!

Yesterday I suggested that we need a “Simon Cowell” in our lives, somebody who risks telling us the hard truth we probably don’t want to hear. Though I’m not advocating the kind of rudeness in which Simon dabbles at times as a judge of American Idol, I do think sometimes we need to hear the blunt truth, even when it hurts.
Several of those who posted comments yesterday agreed with me and added their own insights. But I had to chuckle over a sage comment by Bill Goff: “I think most of [us] coiuld use a Paula Abdul (for encouragement) as well as a Simon Cowell for reality.” Yes, indeed! Thanks, Bill, for this suggestion. We do need people in our lives who build us up with encouragement.
If you’re not an American Idol fan, you may not know that Paula Abdul, the dancer-singer, is as famous for her attempts to be postive as Simon Cowell is for his efforts at blunt negativity. Almost no matter what, Paula looks for something positive to say about a contestant. Sometimes it’s only, “I’m so proud of you for being yourself!” What she doesn’t say is that this person’s “self” is a really lousy singer. (Photo: The judges, from the left: Randy, Kara, Paula, and Simon).
We can learn several things about encouragement from Paula. For one thing, her example reminds us how much people need encouragement. Sometimes you have to work at saying something positive, but it’s almost always well worth the effort. However, Paula is so positive so much of the time that she can lose credibility. She reminds me of parents who are endlessly praising their children, so much so that their praise loses its power.
So, we do need Simon Cowells in our lives, people who tell us hard truths we need to hear. And we also need Paula Abduls, people who encourage us by paying attention to that which is special and valuable in us.
Having said this, I would add one other bit of unsolicited advice. For the most part, you and I need to be more like Paula and less like Simon. If we style ourselves as the blunt tough-truth-tellers, we’ll probably do as much damage as good. In time, people won’t be inclined to listen to us. If you’re going to be a Simon in somebody’s life, you need to earn this right. And you earn this right, in part, by being Paula, by being complimentary and positive most of the time.
I think, for example, of a person from Irvine Presbyterian Church whom I’ll call “Michael.” Michael was one of the most complimentary members of the church . . . and one of the most critical. During my sixteen years as pastor, he probably offered a word of complaint or criticism fifty times. But I always listened to Michael, not only because he was someone whose opinion I respected, but also because he brought genuine words of praise probably five hundred times. Truly. I’ll bet his ration of criticism to praise was something like 1 to 10. Thus he earned my trust, such that I was able to hear the criticism.
So, don’t rush out today and try to be everybody’s Simon. Start with Paula, and do your Simon routine sparingly, when you intend to help and not hurt.

  • Dale

    My problem is that there are so many Paula’s who effectivley lie to the person and then we are forced into a Simon role, where they wont hear unless you are completly blunt.
    I like the idea of speaking the truth in love how ever that may look!

  • Ray

    Our culture presents us with soooooo many opportunities for American Idolatry…

  • Jennie

    I’m with Dale. Paula has no credibility after how ever many years of blah blah blah she has put forward on American Idol. Simon goes overboard because he’s on television and this is entertainment. He probably learned his over the top skills from radio talk show hosts. I bet that in real life he just says it how it is without all the extra “horribles.” People who choose fake smiles and condescending approval over truth are annoying and, are a huge reason why Christians have such a bad reputation. Clearly, if you tell the truth with a mean spirit, that’s not going to do much good either. But, what has to change first is the fact that we don’t want to hear the truth. I think Mark is right, we do all need a Simon Cowell in our life. A Simon who will love us and praise us when we’re great and who will love us and show thumbs down when we’re not. I think Jesus was rather like that. (Please, no one tell Simon I said that. His head might actually explode)

  • Jennie

    Oops, I mean Jesus IS rather like that.

  • Bill Goff

    My favorite Idol judge is Kara DioGuardi. She is candid and insightful without being flattering or insulting. I have had two women acting directors who are much like Kara; they have always brought out the best performance from me.

  • Mariam

    Great insight and comments, Jennie!

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