Mark Twain once said he could live for two months on a good compliment. I can still remember two of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received—where I was, who said what and the fact that it made me want to enhance the qualities they had complimented.
Encouraging words like those come few and far between. What’s sad is that simple or small compliments and words that build another person up and spur them on to good things seem just as rare as a well thought-out compliment.
I was reading Stuff Christians Like the other morning and something in the Judgment Olympics entry really stood out to me. Number six on the list of ways people judge each other explained the common act of only pointing out the one thing that was done incorrectly, while dismissing the 99 things that were done right.
It’s been my experience that hearing a heartfelt thank you or a meaningful compliment for one of the 99 things done right, certainly makes it easier to get over that one mistake. Mary Poppins wasn’t joking when she said a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. A word of encouragement helps the criticism go down. It reminds you that you aren’t a total screw-up.
Why do we do this? I believe part of the problem is that we let trite politeness double as our edification. We believe that because we say “Bless you” when someone sneezes or tack on an unneeded “Thank you” at the end of an email, we’ve done our job. We’ve been polite to that person, so we can check that off our list of virtues.
I also believe we place too much emphasis on complimenting a person’s outward appearance (“Your hair looks great!” “You look like you’ve lost weight!”) and we forget that edifying who a person is, is much more important. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t like being told I’m pretty (I also remember the first time someone told me I was beautiful and they meant it, just like I remember the “less vain” compliments in the first paragraph). Telling someone that you appreciate their hard work or their gift of singing or their servant’s heart is too much work and too close to real emotion. But we are called to edify each other! Edifying is part of showing love to those around us and loving one another is second only to loving God. And part of loving God is following His commands. It goes hand in hand.
This entry hits close to home because I need to work on encouraging others and looking for the positive in others. And I sometimes would like to know I’m doing okay or I’m not a total screw-up too. So my friend and I have made a pact to look for the positive and be more encouraging. No more stale politeness or glossing over the greatness in others.