A sincere compliment is always grateful to a lady, so long as you don’t try to knock her down with it.
– Mark Twain from “Answers to Correspondents,” Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2
I’m starting to notice that the longer we live, the more compliments change course. For example, my second grade yearbook is full of “You’re neat!” and “You’re rad!” scribbles, while high school yearbooks have heartfelt passages about personality and potential. Now I regard a great compliment as “You don’t even look tired!” or “Your son is delightful!” Perhaps it is language acquisition, emotional depth, or how a load of manure reeks more over time, but the difference between empty words and a heartfelt compliment is remarkable. An encouraging word is food for the soul.
Yesterday I had a series of errands and appointments that took all day. By 3:00 I was tired but thankful to finally sitting in the optometrist’s chair. He was a friendly middle aged man who was a bit chatty. Halfway through, the conversation went a bit like this:
Dr: So, two boys! Are you the household disciplinarian?
Me: I better be. “Just wait until your father gets home” loses its sting after a few months of deployment.
Dr. So your husband’s the commander and you’re the sergeant? All you have to do is master that Mom-look.
Me: Oh, it’s already working. Still, there are days I think I might prefer to be overseas than at home pregnant with a rowdy toddler, although I know it’s not really the case.
Dr.: (Leaning back and looking at me contemplatively) I’ll bet you could take out the Taliban.
Me: (Huge smile) I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day.
Dr: Um, that’s kind of weird.
Yes, it was a little bit weird. It may have been sarcasm. It was certainly hyperbole and totally false. To me, it was also a great compliment. We know what our men go through to ‘take out the Taliban’ and all other manner of mission—there are things we could not handle. Likewise, we handle things they could not, such as childbirth and maintaining a house while suffering from a cold. I know how strong my man is and all he is capable of…and this stranger hailed me as on par. I took this as great praise.
It was also somewhat fitting- I didn’t make any yearbook “Most Likely To” awards, but a teacher informed me I was a runner up. The category? “Most Likely To Kill Osama Bin Laden”. I can only describe my poor mother’s expression as priceless. Her hopes were more along the lines of my becoming a world leader rather than killing one.
The compliment that helps us on our way is not the one that is shut up in the mind, but the one that is spoken out.
– Mark Twain: A Biography
Little known quirk about me—I love to give compliments. Not off-hand flattering statements or clichés, but real, needed, unexpected compliments. I also like to people watch. These two delights often collide when I see women over 50. I recently saw a 70 something woman who was absolutely radiant. Yes, she was wrinkled and white haired, but the woman just shone from her dazzling smile and she was rockin’ the polyester that hasn’t been done since the 70s. As I pushed my shopping cart past hers, I stopped and told her with a genuine smile how captivating she was. Her stunned reply was, “Sweetheart, I haven’t been paid a compliment in weeks. You just brightened me up.” Mission accomplished.
It’s amazing how true compliments and words of affirmation resonate and drive deep into the soul. An inspiring half-time pep talk can change the outcome of the game. The world is certainly full of flatterers and people who give idle compliments. Some people love it. To recount a T.V. quote, “Whenever my self esteem is a little low, I just walk down past the construction site and listen to the boys holler. Then I feel good again!”
Perhaps more eloquently stated once again by Mark Twain:
An occasional compliment is necessary to keep up one’s self-respect. The plan of the newspaper is good and wise; when you can’t get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.
-Mark Twain, Notebook, 1894
Still, as we go through life it is essential that we cheer each other on and affirm the greatness in others that they cannot always see in the midst of their circumstances. I have watched many friends as they withstood life’s hurricanes. They see themselves as drenched and beaten, while I see them as standing resiliently through an onslaught. It’s important that they have both perspectives; providing it is my job and privilege.
Today I have to take out the trash, not the Taliban. I have to clothe, feed, change, teach, and care for a child, sustain another, and run errands. Traffic may not count as terrorism, but it is a great boost to feel like I am a butt-kickin’ Momma.
Make someone’s day- notice someone and let them know they are doing something well. It makes all the difference.