If you mean that, the answer is – “No. Please Don’t be.”
When I was a child, compliments were synonymous with something like gulping down a 500 ml Slice/Maaza/Dukes whatever! A red star in the notebook would take me to cloud nine and seventh heaven, whereas a black star on the discipline chart would swing me into the other extreme – Hell! My moods of euphoria and ennui episodes in school would leave my doting mother confused then. But I do remember the difference in her ways of handling me in both times. When I was intoxicated with small successes in life such as winning some recitation or, acing my subjects in school, I would be greeted with wide smiles and warm hugs. Given that, I was a consistent performer in academics, I never felt the sorrow or depression that stems from the other side. But that charade came down at an inopportune time – My XII std Physics paper which I still vividly remember with shivers. Had the paper been difficult, I would not have felt bad about it. However, the paper was a good one, the kind in which scoring was like a cake walk! But because of some flawed timing, one silly mistake of mine cost me a lot other questions that followed. The fact that I realized my mistake right after giving the paper made me feel depressed, inadequate and blank for a long long time! I remember those sobs yet, as they still reverberate in my ears at times, though more than a decade has passed by since the incident. But that day also happened to be a day of great learning for me – Even the mighty, fall. The below image just became real for me after that paper!
Real compliments are Assurances gift wrapped in Kindness
But the way my parents responded to my outburst that day made me a normal person again in a matter of few days. After the exam, they had taken me to my favorite restaurant and, had ordered my favorite meal too. Seriously, who does that? Now, I am aware I have mentioned this incident before too, but it deserves a mention here again for a different reason. I remember what my father had told me apart from his punch line – Heaven is not going to fall down, and those words have come along with me since then.
Errors, mistakes, loss of judgment….whatever you call it, can happen to anyone and everyone at any time. Sometimes, your success not only leads you to believe in a facade that you of all are utterly and totally incapable of making certain mistakes. Worse, it also makes others around you enforce that view further. It is perhaps that belief is the high hopes that people have spun around you makes you feel punctured with shame when events turn out exactly how you don’t want to! But then, even a river meets its diversions during its course. And, what does a river do? It keeps flowing! And, you must keep moving!
Compliments come in various shades too. In this case, it came to me in the form of assurance despite the bad timing. When the results were out a month later, I saw that I had done moderately good though, it was not my best. A replay of the time I spent crying over the fiasco, made me understand how words have the power to change your emotions. Had I been constantly reminded of how bad my paper went, I may have perhaps performed worse in the subsequent ones too! But, it was my parents’ assurance in that crucial period that built the confidence in me and, gave me a reason to look forward to.
Now, there is a reason I am citing this example here. We are living in a world wherein, compliments are more or less centric around decor of homes and gardens, attire and jewelry, bikes and cars and, the many materialistic indulgences that a man can covet in his lifetime. For instance – “Wow! You have lost so much weight. What do you do? What do you eat? Which gym do you hit?” blah blah blah is one of the most common set of questionnaire floating around when people meet people. These compliments make you soar as high as an eagle. Yes, they are compliments. I have no doubts about that. But then, how far do they come along when time and tide don’t pace with you?
Humanity is the most genuine compliment on Earth.
And now, coming to the crucial point, how many of us even acknowledge each other’s existence, be a stray pup digging into the bin across the street to find something to nibble on or, a very old woman suffering from dementia waving at you from the top floor for no reason? How many of us acknowledge a stranger’s smile while we go on a walk or, stop by to admire the innocent fun, two squirrels indulge in while climbing up the tree? How many of us say thank you, even when we buy something from the grocery store, or when we are served lunch or dinner in restaurants? How many of us initiate conversations with strangers while travelling by train? How many of us genuinely feel the thread of acknowledgement? Maybe, we all feel but, we don’t give it its due.
After all, what is mundane is what is most taken granted for. I remember an incident that happened with me in school. It was sometime in the year 1999. My father and I had gone to get a few Xerox copies of some documents. It was late evening and, we were walking towards the complex on the footpath. That evening, while I was talking and increasing my pace, I heard some thud! I looked back to see that my father had slipped and fallen into a wet ditch that was quite inconspicuous in the dark. It was a horrifying time for me as I could not understand how it happened in the first place since, he was walking right beside me. That day, people came running from all corners and jumped in the ditch and rescued him. When he came out, he was dazed for a while. Perhaps, the shock of having slipped with no forewarning of the incident, was still sinking for him, while I was still reeling from the freak nature of the whole accident. Seeing my flustered face and shivering frame as I took my father by his arm gently, a few men came to me and said – “Kuch nahi hua hai, beta….aapke papa bilkul theek hai..bas ek tetanus shot lagvalo.” We went straight to the hospital from there as my father had badly bruised his knee and back. He also got a TT shot! It took him a couple of days to recover.
At the time, I was a teenager. However, the incident is still fresh in my mind for two reasons – One, freak accidents come with no warning. And two, humanity is biggest compliment on Earth. When I saw people rushing over to help me and my father, I was overwhelmed. I cannot express in words what it meant to be helped by kind strangers and, further being consoled by them. The mere acknowledgement of the existence of a living is one of the greatest compliments we can give each other. It goes way beyond statements like – “You look fab!”, “You are so intelligent” or even, “You are such a good soul.” Etc….
Compliments should never stem from Surprises
When I worked as a pre school teacher a year back, I had a very different take on judging children. For instance, I made sure that the ones that were fast graspers shall sit on the last bench. The ones that needed help to grasp were my first benchers. But yes, I used to make sure that the rotation of positions happened to keep the discipline in check.
So, when I took over the class, I was briefed about every child. And, I was quite amused at how teachers judge the children purely on how they perform in tests. Well, I am not blaming teachers because having been there, I am aware of the kind of administrative work that also rolls into a teacher’s shoulders. However, I had some reservations about judging children. Now, it is here I would like to point out that it is not just among children, but also among adults like us, where we have a tendency to compliment people who are already doing well.
Sometimes, we know the importance of complimenting. But, we fail to give them at the right place. In my stint as a teacher (which was definitely short), I realized the importance of compliments at the right place. The bright ones in my class were always hungry for compliments, notwithstanding the fact that they were doing exceptionally good. Some of them had the ingrained nature of being ambitious and I am sure for all the right reasons, this quality is going to take them to great heights. However, it was the other kind that bothered me. Maybe, a lot of criticism at an early age mellowed down the ambitions in certain children who had trouble grasping. And, I started with the basics for them. Initially, I was met with a lot of indifference, but then I did sense a change of attitude in the following weeks. I remember a kid in my class who had issues with his left hand and, he had trouble writing. I used to spend more time with the selected five to six children, as they stood writing on their notebooks placed on my table. On good days, they got a star. Gradually the appearance of stars on their notebooks invoked a dormant joy in them. Their work was not yet the best. But, the stars motivated to do better and, the biggest compliment I received was from the parents in the PTM about how the children quoted me at home and, took efforts to write in a way that would fetch them stars!
Sometimes, the push in the right direction, a compliment at the right time and, a little acknowledgement of the very existence of our surroundings goes a long way in a child’s life. I still remember my colleagues’ surprised faces when the children who they had written off as consistent poor performers suddenly started performing very well. I suddenly remembered what hubby keeps telling me time and again, lest I forget –
“NEVER BE SURPRISED WHEN SOMEONE DOES WELL IN LIFE. BE SURPRISED WHEN HE/SHE DOESN’T!”
A genuine compliment stems from empathy and not surprise. And, empathy is what we all need, but lack big time. Because, when we have empathy, it will never pinch us to compliment at the right time, in the right place and, the right people for that matter 🙂