My mom, Theresa and I had just walked into a snazzy consignment shop in our neighborhood when a little girl – the grandchild of the shop’s owner, I think – looked up at me with her hair pulled into two buns like Mickey Mouse ears and said, “I like your hair!”
She was maybe five. I said, “I like your hair!”
She paused for a split second and again said, “I like your hair!”
And I thought: Oh, this is an out of the mouths of babes moment… Well played, kid.
So I said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.”
With her compliment fully received, she turned away from me and began trying on bracelets at a nearby table.
The gremlins tend to kick in the instant a compliment is levied; they wield humbleness as a weapon ready to cut us and the compliment to shreds, only what they’re calling humbleness is really self-deprecation coated in pretend virtue.
And so many of us divert or shut down compliments instinctively and, in that way, deny the gift of another’s kindness and the moment of attention they’re offering.
We’re also, in a very subtle way, saying, “I don’t value your opinion.”
The thing about compliments that we rarely consider is that they have more to do with the giver of the compliment than the recipient. A compliment gives us insight into what the giver values. Maybe that kind little kiddo valued the shape of my hair. Maybe she’s got a thing for curly hair. Maybe she appreciated that my hair is somewhat unique. I have no idea. All I know – and all that mattered in that moment – was that she was offering me a moment of connection and then doubled-down when I threatened that moment with knee-jerk pleasantries.
The next time someone offers you a compliment, you might take a split second to notice that initial reaction that tells you to swat at their attention like a swarm of fruit flies and, instead, meet their gift with a simple heartfelt, “Thank you.”
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