So a few weeks ago was National Compliment Day, and on the scale of “made up holidays,” it’s a solid eight. For those of you who like scales, a one would be a totally unnecessary day (National Green Shirt Day), while a ten would be “National Talk Like a Pirate Day.” Because we all need one day to add “arrg” to everything, and we certainly need a day when we say nice things to each other.
Compliments mean different things to different people. Some people live for them: positive reinforcement is what keeps them humming through life. Some people hate them, because it puts a spotlight on them that they aren’t used to shining beneath. And some people think all compliments are totally insincere and that the giver of said compliment is being totally fake.
Putting aside any personal issues the third kind of people have, for the most part, humans like to have their good qualities recognized. Even the ones for whom compliments make them embarrassed still like knowing that they’re appreciated, just in a much subtler way (i.e., send them a text; don’t have it added to the scrolling City signs!). Compliments are how a lot of people feel loved.
They’re also how a lot of people show love. A lot of people just like to point out when people are doing a good job. It’s not fake, it’s not insincere: when they see someone doing something good, they want to acknowledge it. We don’t have much problem acknowledging the people close to us who do great things, and thanks to social media, we’ve got a great platform for complimenters to share with the world the people and things they’re proud or thankful of.
My favorite complimenters, and my favorite kinds of compliments, are the compliments that happen between perfect strangers. There’s a great quote, “When a stranger compliments you, it is actually a compliment.” Because strangers didn’t birth you, raise you, and they aren’t friends with you. Their interactions with you are limited to fleeting moments, so if they see something about you that they like, and have the courage to say it to you, take it as the precious, sincere compliment it is. I meet people who read this column and tell me they like it, and it always puts a smile on my face. I also meet people who just say “I read your column,” and then say nothing, but I take that as the eternal mystery I’m sure it was meant to be.
So I want to put out a challenge to the community for the remaining part of February, the third worst month of the year,* to shake off the grey and gloom and put some love and sunshine out into our world. This month, at least once, compliment a stranger. See someone’s kid act right out in public? Tell their parent. Notice a retail worker putting in the extra mile? Let them know you appreciate them. Got a government worker doing their best to help you get a situation resolved? Shoot your mayor an email and let them know.
Get over that initial “I don’t want them to think I’m weird” and focus instead on making that person’s day. Because even if it does feel initially odd to hear nice things about yourself from someone you don’t know, it quickly turns into an internal glow that only comes from realizing someone really meant the nice thing they said.
Don’t think the compliments need to be for extraordinary things either. If you notice someone in the check-out line who is wearing a particularly nice winter sweater, tell them they have great taste. Is there a high schooler at your church who has mastered the cut-crease eyeshadow technique? Compliment their creativity. Let someone you don’t know online that you enjoy their pictures or meme-sharing in a comment, not just with a “like.” Compliments are like Axe Body Spray, peeps: a little goes a really long way.
Let’s spread the love this month to the people we think the most of, but let’s also show it to people who are just navigating this thing we call life just like we all are, and see if by Feb. 29, we don’t all feel a little happier, a little sun-shinier, and yes, a lot more loved.
*The correct order of worst months of the year goes: August (too hot and muggy), January (too dreary and long), and February (too grey and too hard to spell). If you think otherwise, I’ll be happy to read your arguments in a future Letter to the Editor.*