Wednesday, April 8, 2015

With My Compliments

I am sick to death of people parceling out words as if they are currency.  Simple ones like “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” are pried from some people’s mouths as if they were dollars from a miser’s wallet.  Sometimes, because our social contract demands them, these words are muttered without a scintilla of sincerity or eye contact, or implied through a nod.  That’s just not good enough.

There are many of us who are capable of those conversational niceties that become selfish with another type of statement…the compliment.  The “you look nice today” or the “that was a nice thing you did” have become as rare as prose without F-bombs.  I’m always hearing about the world becoming a smaller place.  Shouldn’t that be the reason why we want to be nicer to each other, and share each other’s successes with a few words of praise?  We act as if we are primitives facing a mirror or a camera, afraid that it will steal a piece of our souls.

I was born in 1964, so my world view was shaped in the ‘70’s.  It was the time of “I’m OK, You’re OK”, “Free To Be You and Me” and “Transactional Analysis”.  My folks were into that last one, so my brother Eric and I were schooled in warm fuzzies and blue pricklies (compliments and insults), told it was okay to cry and that you should NEVER put yourself down.   This may sound kind of New Age to you.  Hey, me and my brother were just north of ten years old and it all sounded kind of hippy-dippy to us, too.

I know I spent a lot of time back then rolling my eyes, but if you recall, that’s just what we do at that age.  Some of it fell away.  Of course it’s okay to cry, but not just because they’re out of your favorite snack cake at the grocery store.  As far as putting yourself down, I happen to think self-deprecating humor is a great deal of fun.  Delivered with a wink, the listener will know you’re not contemplating stepping off the ledge of a building.  Who doesn’t love a person who, with one remark, is letting you know they’re aware that they aren’t the center of the universe?

Some things just took some time to sink in.  I learned that insults are fun, too, but only between the closest of friends, and you’d better be ready to apologize if your rapier wit cuts too deep (see first paragraph).

Compliments, for some reason, seem to be the hardest.  As if by acknowledging another person’s good deed or good fortune, that we are somehow lessening ourselves.  Were you aware the simple act of saying, “Thank you for your hard work” changes the brain chemistry in the recipient?  From that moment forward, they are more likely to work hard for you.

What did it cost to tell a little girl that you love her new princess sneakers, even though you’ve seen a hundred pair just like them?  Did it make you somehow smaller to tell a little boy you’re impressed by his little league triple, even when three outfielders ran into each other trying to catch it as the ball rolled away?  I speak of children because I think we are all youngsters in that way…craving the approval of our peers, our parents, our teachers.  I don’t believe we ever outgrow it.

A lady I worked with at the library used to have a quote pinned up behind her desk.  I’ll have to paraphrase, because I don’t remember it exactly and since she retired, she can’t find it in her old boxes of work stuff.  It said, in essence, that complimenting another's success is good, because it makes that success belong to all of us. 

If you don’t think there is an upside for you in learning to give a compliment, let me put it this way.  Say you’ve taken a pebble from an earthen dam.  One pebble alone might not make a huge difference, but a pebble here and a stone there, you’ll soon see a trickle of water coming your way.  Now, there’s something coming from both sides.  You could find yourself knee-deep in appreciation that swirls in an eddy, clearing the obstacles between us.  What started as a mere “I’m glad you’re here” becomes something as effusively loving as a Jimmy Fallon interview.  

You can chalk all of this up as the ravings of a one-off flower child and you’d be right.  I am what I am.  But if you read this far, I’ve got a compliment for you.

You spent a few minutes reading about someone else’s feelings and opinions, which tells me you are capable of great empathy.  I see you as a person who listens before speaking, certain that you don’t already possess all the world’s knowledge.  You must be a great friend and a compassionate sibling.  Your parents are proud of you, even if they don’t say it.

You are awesome.


  1. Marc, this is awesome, and you are awesome, and I'm sincerely glad to know you! Thank you for taking the time to share this!!

    1. Thank you, Katherine. My wife mentioned you specifically when we were driving home last night, having enjoyed talking to you. I, of course, got the better deal, getting to talk with you and work with you as well.