Yesterday a new friend complimented Amy and I on this blog. We were beaming. Her compliments were genuine, sincere, and ... well ... not like compliments you usually receive.
She made my day.
For whatever reason, we don't do compliments well in our culture. We tend to make fun of people when they compliment, and we rib people for taking too much satisfaction when they're given a compliment.
When people genuinely do compliment us, our guard comes up: we look around to see who's watching and listening; we wonder what they want from us; we tone-down our acceptance in case they're being sarcastic – "Nice shirt!"
I've taught many, many immigrant students who have struggled to understand our jaded rules around complimenting. Bad is good? Sick is great? And if you like someone, never tell them as much in plain English – you have to guise it as something else (i.e. the scene in Gran Torino when Clint Eastwood teaches the boy how to talk like a man before helping him get a construction job).
Or take academia, for example, especially the social sciences. Here you have the most (formally) educated people in the world ripping each other to pieces about the holes in their arguments, the shortcomings in their findings, or scoffing at the well-intentioned efforts of good people behind certain initiatives (like this one). Publication after publication. Rip, rip, rip.
But genuine and sincere compliments go a long way. They really do. And they're simple. Or rather, they're simply observations of the good in things. All we need to do is share them. We all know that it's important to think positively, but why do we have so many reservations when it comes to sharing the positive things we observe in other people? Why is it easier to talk about the negative, than the positive?
And I'm not talking about nice shirts. Or hair, or shoes, or eyebrows. I'm talking about really genuine compliments to people who aren't expecting really genuine compliments from you.
And as millions of kids across the world head to school with all the worries that come with new classmates and seating arrangements, I can't help but think the world – or our culture at least – is in short supply of compliments.
Life is short. You really don't know when you won't see someone again.
Compliment them. You'll make their day.