A new year is upon us. We are making resolutions and plans for 2018. We are thinking about ourselves a lot this time of year, and that’s not a bad thing. We are evaluating our talents, our struggles, and where we want to improve. We are also thinking about how we can change the world for the better, and what kind of impact we can have on the lives around us. Sometimes the smallest parts of our day can make a difference for others.
Take for example, when we are confronted with compliments. How do we usually react? Often, we brush it off, make it seem small, shoot a compliment back, add an exception, downplay our part in whatever it is we are being thanked for. In a social experiment by John Bates called “The Compliment Experiment”, he runs through two scenarios of accepting a compliment. When he receives a compliment the first time, he brushes it off, shrugs, and makes light of it. He then asks the giver of the compliment to assess how it made him feel.
Take a moment to think about how you feel when you give someone a genuine compliment, and they give a “pfftttt, it’s nothing” reaction. How does it make you feel to be brushed off? Do you feel like you contributed to that person’s day? Do you feel more connected to them? Do you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside? No. You feel superfluous. You aren’t needed, that person is doing fine on their own. Whatever meant a lot to you, didn’t mean anything to them. If we want to make a difference in the world, how can we do that if we are making others feel small?
We are generally trained from a young age to be humble. In the second grade, when you stated, “I’m faster than you”, you got scolded for being unkind. We learn quickly that being polite is more important than the truth. And while we do, of course, want to be kind in social interactions, it is also OK to know what you are good at, and what you are not good at. So, when someone says that we are good at something, or says they are thankful for something we did, how can we react in a socially acceptable way, without seeming prideful? How do we make the individual giving the compliment feel valuable?
Bates shows us that it is simple to genuinely and graciously accept a compliment. He looks them in the eye and heartily says “thank you”.
Don’t block it with another compliment. Don’t shrug and say “no big deal”. Accept it as the gift that it is, and store it away in your heart. Connect with this special someone that got up the courage to share their thoughts with you. Shake their hand, or give them a hug if you have that kind of connection, but just let the compliment be. Don’t add to it, and don’t take away from it. Be thankful for that person in your life, or that passing stranger that told you your face looks like sunshine.
This year try simply accepting compliments when they are given to you, and see what a difference it can make.
Art Credit: Caligraphy by Crystal Binoeder, Painting by Addie DeLong.