Being Noticed: The Art of Accepting a Compliment
It's happened to pretty much all of us. We compliment someone by saying something like: "Kelly. These are the best dinner rolls I've ever tasted! They're so fluffy, I would love to get this recipe."
Kelly replies, "Oh thanks! I thought they were pretty good, but they weren't quite as light and tasty as they were last time." Pretty commonplace, huh? Kelly is of course, secretly pleased, and we thought nothing of the way the compliment was cut down to a smaller size to fit expectations. But hey, we got the recipe!
THE ART OF ACCEPTING A COMPLIMENT
In a way, the exchange above isn't wrong. If a fellow baker compliments me, I also know they'll understand the struggle in making it and might even be able to help me figure out how to do it better next time. It’s a simple human exchange and there’s nothing wrong with staying truthful about our problems or troubleshooting. It breaks down when we find ourselves in a constant state of self-deprecation, with a negative view of every interaction.
If the art of giving a compliment is noticing people, than receiving one is certainly on being honored gracefully. It's difficult, isn't it? Someone says something nice about us and we think it needs a dash of something bitter about it to bring it down to our level.
Why? Because we accept compliments the way we see ourselves, not the way other people see us.
In the Bible Jesus talks about taking the lower seat so someone can honor us by moving us higher, but that's not what rejecting a compliment is; that story is referring to understanding self-importance in society, and blowing off a compliment is like turning down the truth someone else believes about you. It's staying stubbornly seated when someone is trying to honor you by offering you a better seat, and shooing them off.
Most folks use deprecation as a sub either for humility or pride. There's a scene in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" that shows one of these well. Violet is in town with a stunner of a dress on (and she knows it), and all the men in the near vicinity are nearly tripping over their own eyes or walking into cars over sight of her. The main character, George, sees her and compliments her on what she's wearing by saying something elegant like,
"Wow, well.. that's some dress you got on there, Vi."
"This old thing? Why, I only wear it when I don't care how I look."
Really Vi, really? We both know, you know, that you look fantastic in that dress. Why play coy?
1. TAKING OTHER PEOPLE AT THEIR WORD
I remember complaining to a girlfriend about how it is so difficult to know when someone was sincere about something they said. How could I know if their offer to help me do something was real, or if what they said was genuine? Simple, she said, you take them at their word.
Does that get you like it did me? If they meant what they said, then great! You honor them by accepting their word wholeheartedly, and if they didn't... too bad for them. They shouldn't have said it. This is over-simplification, but most truths do have a simple core even if human layers are added later. It won't explain those awkward and difficult moments when you truly question what is between the lines, or motivation, but in general if someone gives you a compliment you can simply take it at face value, blush a little (if you're the rosy type) and act as pleased as you are.
Takeaway: accepting a compliment means taking other people at their word.
2. LEAVING SELF-DEPRECATION OUTSIDE
Remember how I talked about noticing the good in other people in the "How to Compliment" article? In a different way, this extends to ourselves in receiving a compliment. I remember reading a poem a few years ago that changed the way I think, the way I speak, and even touched on how comfortable I am in my own skin. I’m including a fragment of it below, as the central idea of it:
“..as her eyes took in all of the beauty, of a world which she’d lived life deprived,
She learnt there’s no need to say sorry. Taking up space simply means you’re alive.”
Something about that concept changed my life. Before, I always felt as if I should be a bit sorry to be alive because the sense of imperfection was heavy on me. However, as I slowly realized: God obviously wanted me, and you, to breathe and live right now. Not in a sort of demi-god way, but as the loved creation of a true God. Letting other people acknowledge the good they see in you is a time-honored way of human interaction, just as we’ve laughed at inside jokes for thousands of years.
It’s unlikely that any of us will be entirely free from insecurities in our lifetime, but living in a state of constant self-deprecation is like confining yourself to a fluorescent prison. The door is open to go explore a world outside and find life, but we stay here because we feel we deserve the close up of ourselves in harsh lighting while others get a more distant view in golden hour. It makes it tough to accept compliments.
Takeaway: accepting a compliment is basically seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes. Putting aside your own view and accepting the truth, skill, or beauty they see in you.
One more thing...
Self-deprecation is part of a larger problem of human insecurity because it is difficult for us to accept grace. I think, especially as Christians, it becomes important to acknowledge and work through our inherent human shame, special-made and handed down from Adam and Eve. We know we’re broken, and 9 times out of 10 feel “naked” so we hide and sew up some cover story in an attempt to be as perfect as we can to deserve the notice of God, and people.
It's a terrible plan. It didn't work for Adam and Eve or anyone since then. Instead, we have to walk boldly to the throne of Grace and say: “Here I am, just me. I accept what I don’t deserve. Thank you.”
We also accept the gift of compliments we don’t deserve, with thanks.
It’s grace. It’s the wonder of accepting the notice of God, and the delight of human interaction.
It is in giving thanks.
With much love,
P.S. This week I am planning to cook vats of food, play tour guide, and work on my favorite aunt status while my sister’s family is here for Thanksgiving, so I will be taking a break from the Monday Column next week. I plan to return December 4th, 2017.