Be honest now. The last time you received a compliment, what did you do? I mean a real compliment, one directed at you, not your choice in apparel. The last time someone said you were totally amazing, how did you respond?
If I had to guess about it, it's been a while, perhaps a long while, since anyone said you were totally amazing. I know it doesn't happen to me often, nor do I say it to my friends often enough.
But, if it did happen, what would you say? Would you smile and say thank you, or would you look at the person like they were crazy and just shake your head at them? Would you brush it off and imply that you didn't deserve to have such nice things said about you?
This situation just happened to me. Not in person, but in a Facebook note. A friend, a woman I haven't actually met in person, wrote me a message that said, in part, "...while before I was always inspiring others, now I need some inspiration myself. And I get that from you. You're a mother, a professional, a writer, an artist, a great chef, and a true adventuress."
My response? "Wow, I'm not sure I can live up to that description, but thanks." Here, in the privacy of my own home, I was shaking my head as if she were a lunatic who needed serious psychological help. Me, an inspiration?
This whole episode got me thinking, and as frequently happens, you get to put up with my thinking in writing. I think, as a culture, we have an issue with compliments. We neither give nor receive them well.
Oh, we do okay with the little ones, the ones that don't really mean anything: what an adorable puppy, I like that dress, what a cute purse, etc. Really, most of the compliments we give and get are for things over which we have no control. I didn't make that purse you're admiring so much, and while I appreciate that you're complimenting my taste, I can't really take any credit for the purse or the puppy or the dress.
Don't get me wrong, these compliments are wonderful, and it's nice to be noticed for any reason. But shouldn't we take more time to give meaningful compliments? I appreciate the hard work your putting into making this project a success. You've truly been an amazing friend to me, and I appreciate your support during this difficult time. Your actions have inspired me to try something new, and I appreciate that.
On the flip side, we also need to work on accepting compliments gracefully. I know I rarely just say thank you without somehow waving away the compliment. Oh, this old, thing - I've had it forever. All that work I did? It was no big deal.
What really had me shaking my head at myself was that the compliment my Facebook friend gave me was directly pointed at why I do this blog to begin with. I've said before that my hope is to be the reason you all say, "If she can do that, so can I." And then maybe you'll go out and try something new. I've been working hard at confronting my fears and trying new things, and I hope you will, too. Why then, if someone tells me that I've succeeded at being an inspiration, would I blow it off?
Part of it, of course, is that if I accept the compliment, I acknowledge that her perception is somehow accurate. She has described me in a way I am willing to accept as correct, and if that description is correct, then I have to live up to it. Holy hell, what a burden!
Another big part of our culture issue with giving and receiving compliments is that whole pride-is-a-deadly-sin thing. Our Calvinist and Puritan forefathers would have none of that, and hundreds of years later, neither will we. If we have the audacity to say something nice about ourselves, we're bragging. If we compliment someone else too heartily, we risk giving them a big head. It's a pretty crazy attitude for a culture which also prizes individuality and working hard to get ahead.
At this point, I suppose I should have some final message, some moral to this rambling, but I don't have anything beyond the obvious: we all need to practice giving and receiving real compliments with grace and sincerity. Take it as a challenge. Once a day this week, find a reason to give someone a meaningful compliment, and then observe how they take it. If you get such a compliment, just say thank you simply and sincerely. How did that make you feel? I'd love it if you came back here and let us all know what happened. Maybe we'll learn something from each other.
P.S. I did not write this post to fish for compliments, but I do appreciate that you've taken the time to read it.