Think of the best compliment you’ve ever received. Maybe an ex boyfriend once told you that the way you looked first thing in the morning — all puffy-eyed, messy-haired, and covered in sleep — was the purest sight in the world.
Maybe an old school teacher gave you the confidence to pursue your dream career after she praised your abilities to overcome obstacles and work creatively, or independently, or both.
Maybe your favourite thing about yourself started as a conversation with a friendly neighbor, who, upon appreciating your candid remarks about the state of the US government, complimented you on your natural charisma.
Point is — we all have our catalogue of prized compliments, a mental checklist of the qualities we, and others, seem to like about us, most. What may have, at the time, been an offhanded verbal admission of admiration from a stranger, might be the precise thing that you hold dear about yourself, years down the line, during a particular rough patch of this journey we call life.
Whether we care to admit it or not, the way that people see us, often plays a huge role in how we carry ourselves, express our thoughts, and go about our day-to-day lives.
That’s all very normal, we are social creatures after all, and there’s a certain level of necessary cross-referencing that must be done between the ‘us’ in our own head, and the ‘us’ that the outside world sees. The trouble with all that? How the hell are we supposed to know what people think of us?
Unfortunately, this article isn’t going to address that question directly. Instead, it’s going to take a ‘be the change you wish to see’ type of turn, and analyze the effects of being the giver of a good compliment, not the receiver.
Think of the best compliment you’ve ever given.
Does…anything….come… to mind…or…? Yup. Me too.
Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea what the best compliment I’ve ever given is.
Further than an issue of faulty recall, this task is made impossible by the fact that we aren’t, as givers of compliments, even remotely qualified to distinguish our bad ones from good, and our good ones from best.
In reality, we have absolutely no control over the emotional impact of a compliment once it has left our lips. In this sense, a few well-intended words of appreciation, just might be the purest, and most inexpensive gift that we can give to another person.
We have NO idea the positive capacity our commendations might have on a person. What’s more, is that there’s no explicit reward attached to the act of giving a compliment, no expectation of receipt besides that of a simple, “thank you.”
Thus, if we’re able to understand the limitless potential of a compliment — mostly as a result of remembering the kind words we, once, initially received, and have cherished ever since — then we ought to realize the power in returning the favour.
That is, precisely speaking, to give compliments to those in our life (sparing no-one!) with the same degree of freedom as we give out our opinions on trivialities such as the weather and our favourite alcoholic drink.
Now, if the idea of having to find compliments for everyone you pass on the street freaks you out, then worry not. Scroll up to the photo at the top of this article and just notice things. Notice the way their cheeks scrunch up their eyes as they smile. Notice the wonderful contrast between their beautiful skin, and the colour of their shirt. Notice the cute gap between their teeth. Notice how they make you feel, even just through a photograph.
Now practice it.
First, start with your friends and your loved ones. Tell them what you like most about them. Really THINK about it. It can be a physical quality, an emotional characteristic, or a supernatural aura for all I care. Just find it, open your mouth, and mean it.
Next, talk to the person making your subway sandwich. Comment on her really cool sense of style, or how you love the colour she chose for her eyeshadow, and where can you find it, too.
Or what about the person standing in front of you at the grocery store checkout? Tell them they have wonderful taste in ice-cream, after you spot the pint of chocolate fudge Ben and Jerry’s sitting in their cart. Or strike up a conversation, and end it with a sincere appreciation for the way they’re able to speak about complex ideas so intelligently.
If you don’t notice anything about the way they speak, then find something else — It matters far less what it is you choose to compliment them on, and far more that you, do, indeed, begin to make a habit of gifting people with words of affirmation.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
The quote above is one that’s been floating around my brain recently, as I’ve pondered what ‘making a positive difference in the world’ really means for an individual living in the chaos and uncertainty of the 21st century.
To me, Maya Angelou captures a particular truth in this observation, the notion that it matters not our choice of words in complimenting a person, but the availability of our words to lend themselves to the positive self-perception of another.
We can’t control how exactly our compliments affect people, but we can aim to affect as many people in possible, in the hopes that they’ll internalize the best pieces of their own identity, and, one day go on to return the favour to someone else — hell, everyone else!
Dear reader, have I mentioned that I think you’re a wonderful, kind-hearted person, whose interest in reading an article on the art of a good compliment is indicative of a deeper commitment to the betterment of society? No?
Well, now you know ;)
Alexandra Walker-Jones — August 2020