It's been a hot minute since I posted here, huh! Last time I think I was still working for Housing at UGA, still living in Athens, still interning at Gwinnett Medical Center, and still in desperate need of a vacation! Now/today/as you're reading this, I'm all done in Athens (no job, no apartment, no classes) and living at home with Patrick (that should be in quotation marks, I'll 'splain) full-time. I'm now interning at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and have finished my first week, and I also had an amazing week-long adventure-cation with Patrick in Hawaii. Wee! Oh snap, I also didn't have a pet the last time I posted! Patrick and I adopted a sweet pit bull (mix?) from the local animal control and she is an absolute cuddle bug. Her name is Camile (Dr. Saroyan, anyone?) slash Cam slash Cammie. Her name ended up with only one "l" because Patrick is the one who got her tag made ;)
Wait, Alycia, why should you have used quotey marks earlier? Well, today I took Patrick to the airport as he is starting a 6-month stay in NYC for his new job. Don't fret, we'll be seeing each other at least every other weekend. I don't think Camile (our pup) has realized yet that he won't be walking her for a while, but Cam is part of the reason I wanted to write today about how to pay a compliment. When I was walking her in our neighborhood earlier this week, a man in his garage called out to me that I should be walking him instead of Cam. I got a whistle/shout from some guy in his car as he drove past us walking today, too. Weirdly, I've been getting commends a lot lately from men at various places. I say "a lot" because I can only recall one time while I was at UGA when someone shouted at me, and it was some college kids yelling "nice boobs!" as they drove past me. Now that I'm living at home, I have half a dozen! (Stories, not boobs.) So, once in 3 years compared with a bunch in the last month or two--it seems like a lot. One guy *persistently* asked me if he could "have my smile" when we were in a Wal Mart...I was trying to find Settlers of Catan and he was there with his kid. Another guy tried to hit on me at the gas station before we took Cam to the vet to be boarded.
Now, the guy at the gas station, maybe not so much. But some of these people who have called out to me or given me these disconcerting "compliments" (e.g., "I like your smile...can I have it? I said, can I have it?") have left me feeling uncomfortable and confused. I, of course, looked up the definition of compliment and found "a polite expression of praise or admiration". The problem with these compliments lately is that I don't think they have been very polite at all, because the intent does not seem to be to make me feel respected or to show consideration. I'm not trying to say that having a stranger comment on my appearance is universally bothersome or offensive, because I'll get super excited if someone says "wow, those shoes are so cute!" or "your hair color is really pretty!" It's not like a stranger would have the background knowledge to approach me and compliment my study habits or commitment to helping others. Instead, I feel like the men who have been speaking to me (or calling out to me, honking, or whistling) are doing something that is about them, not me. If your intention is to brighten someone's day by saying or doing something nice for them, the compliment should be something that is considerate of that person's feelings.
The guy in Wal Mart, for example, told me I had a nice smile so I said thank you. It was nice because I was wearing a new lipstick, so I was like, "wee!" Then I went back to looking for the board game. Things got weird when he said, "can I have it?" and didn't take the hint when I ignored the question. Instead, he repeated his question louder. I think I tried to laugh it off and said something about "what, you want the lipstick, too?" and he said yes. Like, what?! Red flags, sir, red flags. Are you feeling grossed out on my behalf or would you have "had to be there"?
At any rate, I feel like there are some general guidelines that you (the collective) should follow when giving compliments to other people. Some of these are related to the weird experiences I've referenced, and some are inspired by my hobby of makeup and spending hours watching YouTube beauty gurus.
- Do: Take a moment to read the body language of the person you want to compliment. Does he look like he is in a hurry? Does she look like she is having a bad day? If the person looks down, it might be a great time to say something kind, but people who are already in a hurry probably don't have time for an elaborate set-up for your punch-line of niceness.
- Do: Compliment the person on things that are important to him or her. Patrick really likes getting compliments on his beard, and I feel happy when a girl notices my shoes. It also makes me feel great when I get compliments on the way I interact with patients because I value that a lot. It helps to know the person, of course, but sometimes I think you can just tell. Compliment people on their cleanliness, timeliness, patience, good listening, and consideration for others, for example.
- Do: Realize that a compliment can serve as a reinforcer. If you compliment someone on something, and they take it well, it can encourage them to do that thing again. For example, if your significant other does the dishes, that's a great time for praise! Kids, I feel, are especially good candidates for this...pay compliments on the positive behaviors and give them a boost! You don't need to hand out Gold Stars, but you can make them feel good and show that you noticed the good things.
- Do NOT: Pay compliments solely on Uncontrollables. Oops, this'll be a long one. I don't know that everything in this world is distributed normally, but I do know that there are some things that it would be really strange to compliment because the person may not have any control over it. I'll list just a couple and give my reasons. Intelligence is the first that comes to mind. While it's great to compliment a student or peer on how smart she is, I think it's a good idea to either expand what we think of as "smart", or to get more specific with the compliment. If you're thinking of brains in the traditional IQ way, can the person really control how smart he or she is? Instead, maybe compliment how hard she works on her assignments or how well he stays focused on the problem at hand. I also think this is a way to make the person feel good about how he uses the tools in his box rather than focusing on how well-stocked his toolbox is. Physical beauty is another one that's tricky, because barring Botox, plastic surgery, and accidents, the face you're born with is the face you live with. I didn't get to choose my face, my height, or my cup size, so it's awkward to receive compliments on those things. (And remember, compliments are supposed to be about how the receiver feels, not the giver.) I guess you could compliment my parents instead, or their parents, because the genetics are what they are without me having much influence. Another related example is like when kids get complimented on their clothing. Kids don't have any control over the income of their parents, so they don't exactly get to choose whether they shop at Nordstrom or wear hand-me-downs. If you want to make the kid feel good, think about his feelings first, and go from there.
- Do NOT: Expect the person to respond in a particular way. If you start out with the intention of getting a "thank you" or warm smile and happy conversation, you might be disappointed. Just because you've gone out of your way to be nice doesn't entitle you to a particular reaction. If you're trying to say or do something nice genuinely, it shouldn't be about how YOU feel afterwards, as long as you followed the above rules and did your best to make the other person feel good. If it's somebody you know and they seem to be uncomfortable after you've paid a compliment, you could always ask if they would prefer you didn't comment on X, or that you didn't draw attention to Y. That way you can show that you wanted to respect them and be considerate. Maybe you can even discover something they would prefer to be complimented on in the future. If you're interacting with strangers, look for a pattern. If every girl whose rack you compliment turns red and hurries away, you may be missing the mark and want to take a different tack.
So, do I think it's hurtful to tell a girl she looks pretty or tell a boy he is smart? Meh. I think it's harmful to support a culture where compliments are twisted into making the giver feel good and the receiver feel objectified. I think it's dangerous to limit our compliments to others to things beyond their control, like physical and cognitive ability. At the same time, I think it's a nice thing to figure out ways to make other people feel appreciated and noticed. If your friend spends an hour on his hair every morning, compliment that faux hawk! If your pal blends out eye shadows like a boss. tell her it looks artful. If your neighbor is diligent in taking care of his lawn, give him a shout out. If your cashier always remembers to set aside your eggs so they don't break, praise her memory and consideration. Whatever it is, just try to be more conscious of paying compliments that will make the person feel respected and comfortable. Don't demand a response or a thank you, and don't feel bad if you get it wrong sometimes. You might catch somebody off guard or you might be misunderstood. You might have just complimented a favorite pair of earrings that was passed down from a deceased grandparent and it's the anniversary of that person's death, who knows!
Also, I would love to hear your take on this! Do you agree or disagree with my guidelines? Do you have your own strategy for when someone makes a misguided attempt at a compliment? Do you feel good or bad when someone compliments your look? Are there certain times when you do expect to be complimented? Ways you respond to others to let them know that what they said was appreciated? Let me know and feel free to disagree. Also, feel free to send me a compliment if you wish ;)
That's a wrap!