Compliments are powerful words of encouragement that build another’s sense of self-worth.
About a year ago, Joe Jr. (my eight year old son) illustrated this power of compliments. For Valentine’s Day, his (then) second-grade teacher, "Mrs. B," had her class do a very simple project.
Mrs. B made a customized "compliment form" for every student in the classroom.
For instance, Joe Jr.’s form said, “Dear Joe Jr., I think you’re awesome because…”
And then she had several lines for someone to complete that statement.
Then at the bottom it said, “Your friend…” where the student would write their name.
Evidently, she made enough of these forms for each student in the class to tell Joe Jr. how he was awesome. And of course, she made these special forms for EACH student.
After picking up Joe Jr. from school that day, in the car ride home he was reading and re-reading these forms that all told him what made him awesome.
He kept saying, “Most of these people are telling me that I’m smart.”
The pure joy and positive energy radiating from him was priceless.
That is the power of an encouraging word.
That is the power of affirmation.
That is the power of a compliment.
A stack of "compliment forms" gave Joe Jr. an increased sense of value and worth.
He felt respected.
In a world of dominance hierarchies, judgments, negative energy, and put downs, healing is needed.
And the sixth way we can be a healing force in a wounded world is by giving the unconditional GIFT of respect by COMPLIMENTING.
We each possess a very special POTENTIAL power.
It is the power to give another human being an increased sense of worth and value by complimenting them.
Others need your affirmation. Give it to them.
We all desire approval so much. Down deep, we all desire to be complimented. We want people to think that we're good at something. We want people to tell us that they think we did a good job. We want to be admired.
But many times, we are extremely stubborn in giving to OTHERS this kind of affirmation through compliments.
Why are we so stingy in giving out compliments to OTHER people?
Why do we keep these powerful words to ourselves?
I believe there are several reasons. But I'll mention just two.
First, we may withhold a compliment from someone because they did a BETTER job than we either did, or could have done.
And we're just plain proud, stubborn, jealous, or even resentful.
We're "sore losers."
Perhaps we see them as a rival. We want to be better than them. And we're not about to give them the props that they deserve.
Someone beat us in a swim race, foot race, or some other athletic contest.
Someone got a better grade than we did.
Someone did a better presentation.
Someone got the award we worked so desperately to get.
And our stubborn mentality is, "It'll be a cold day in hades before I compliment him/her."
It's actually kind of easy to give words of encouragement and compliments to those we outperformed in some area of life.
We disingenuously spout, "You were really great today! You're so talented!" While secretly thinking, "But not as good as me!"
However, it can be extremely difficult to eat a slice of "humble pie," and praise someone who outperforms us - especially in our specific area(s) of expertise.
Now in my late forties, I don't have a large list of things that I have been good at in this life. My list of talents is a pretty short list.
But in my twenties and thirties, the one thing I was good at was teaching the Bible as a professor and pastor. And I received massive amounts of compliments that increased my sense of value and worth along these lines.
In my twenties, when I was a young college professor, teachers dreaded the end of the semester. They knew this was the time that students submitted their evaluations of their teacher's performances that semester.
I actually LIVED for those things.
I would get large stacks of evaluations and almost all of them were extremely positive.
Again, these compliments built my sense of personal value and worth.
Granted, this created an approval addiction within me that became VERY destructive. That's for another time.
But the point at hand is this: I was really good at teaching and I received massive approval from my teaching gift.
During this time period as a college teacher, I was also a student taking additional master's classes.
In one of these classes we were required to do a presentation in front of the whole class.
Ah, my specialty. My area of expertise. Remember?
I remember doing my presentation in front of the entire class and, to be honest, it was just ok. No one seemed "wowed" or "in awe" of the substance of my content or the style of my delivery.
Already a little deflated, something else happened. My office mate, another member of the College Bible faculty, gave his presentation shortly after I did.
In my proud, private thoughts, I probably viewed myself as a more popular Bible teacher on campus than my office mate. And that he may have been a good teacher, but not as "dynamic" and "effective" as myself.
But when my office mate gave his presentation, he absolutely killed it. His presentation completely buried mine.
Some of our classmates just gushed and fawned over how good his presentation was. They asked him for copies of his work to put into their permanent files.
I don't remember anyone asking me for a copy of my presentation. I'm not sure I remember anyone complimenting me. And I don't remember if I complimented my office mate or not.
What am I driving at? This type of narcissism and pride is what keeps us from complimenting others.
We don't want anyone to outshine us.
We want everyone to celebrate us, not someone else.
I was in my 20's at that time, and now I'm in my late 40's. I shake my head at my personal insecurity and arrogance.
And now, I'm finally learning how to celebrate the unique giftedness of OTHER people. To not be threatened by talented people.
And to give to such people the unconditional GIFT of respect through complimenting.
Second, we may withhold a compliment from someone because we think that another’s performance was substandard according to OUR judgment.
And that, somehow, we would be lying if we gave them a compliment.
In many of these situations, what is usually at fault is not THEIR performance in some area of life, but OUR standard of judgment.
Having been a father now for some 15 years, the biggest wake up call I've received was just a few years ago on a family vacation.
As I was driving, Joy (my wife) was reading aloud to us all from Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Early in that book he referenced the poem “Father Forgets” by W. Livingston Larned.
It's worth including here.
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply,
“Hold your shoulders back!”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive‐and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither.
And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me?
The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding‐this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy‐a little boy!”
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
When Joy read those words, "I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years," a light shone in my darkness.
I instantly knew how I had failed you children as a father.
I knew that for over a decade of parenting, I had been taking my own 40 year old yardstick and measuring my children by it.
Expecting all of you to measure up.
That you children should "know better" in a thousand areas.
That you should all have the wisdom of a 40 year old, not the naivety of a 5 year old.
That you should all be as responsible as a 40 year old, and not be as naturally silly and foolish as an 8 year old.
That you should think, act, react, behave, and believe like a 40 year old, not like the young children you are who honestly and truly "don't know better."
Like the father in the poem, AS A RULE I was looking to constantly censor, correct, and criticize all of you.
And sometimes, AS AN EXCEPTION, I would compliment you.
I remember coaching Ray (our firstborn and parental "lab rat")
in little league soccer and basketball games, and being VERY stingy with compliments concerning his "performance."
I would even borderline resent it when other parents would come up and say to him, "Ray, you played awesome today!"
And I would think to myself, "No he didn't. Stop saying that. His effort was substandard. He should have played harder. He shot poorly. He turned the ball over multiple times. He made numerous mental errors....stop complimenting him. This boy needs truth, not encouragement."
But the problem was NOT the performance of my little boy.
The problem was the unrealistic standard of judgment coming from an overly insecure, critical father.
I played high school and college basketball. I had hundreds, maybe thousands of "logged" hours playing basketball.
And now I was measuring my own son, a young child in freaking little league basketball, by the yardstick of my own experience and years.
And as a result, I become stingy with giving him compliments that he desperately craved.
As result, I had disrespected my son. I had diminished his sense of value and worth. That he was somehow not good enough to please his father.
Again, the problem was not that my son's performance was not good enough.
I was not good enough.
I had completely forgotten and lost touch with the reality that:
1) There was a time in my life I could not dribble, shoot, or pass.
2) There was a time in my life I had to learn all these skills.
3) That I would need hundreds and thousands of hours practicing and playing basketball to refine these skills.
4) That I had those who complimented me along the way because they respected the long, gradual process that acquiring these skills requires.
5) That these empowering souls celebrated every incremental step of progress that I made. They had realistic standards of judgment that made them generous, not stingy, with compliments.
Compliments that made me feel respected. Compliments that increased my sense of value and worth.
I'm grateful for the poem, "Father forgets." It was the wake up call I desperately needed.
May we all generously give out compliments for any and all steps of progress. May we give to to others the unconditional GIFT of respect that comes through complimenting.
Next time: 7 Ways to Give the Gift of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - #7 - THANK.
R = Receive – love and accept others for who they are.
E = Equalize – stand beside others as equals. Not above them. Not below them.
S = See – Notice others. Don’t treat others like they’re invisible.
P = Protect – Stick up for others. Never bully another human being.
E = Empathize – Listen to the stories of others. Try to feel what they feel.
C = Compliment – People crave affirmation. Compliment them.
T = Thank – People crave appreciation. Thank them.