Compliments. They can be exciting, uplifting, insulting, awkward and weird. They can make you feel a range of emotions, including indifference. They can even make you unwittingly support capitalism.
Yeah, I went there.
Maybe you’ve noticed it from others, maybe you’ve noticed it in yourself, maybe you’ve never noticed it and maybe I’m a bit off my rocker for thinking it’s worth noticing, BUT, have you ever noticed that sometimes a compliment is immediately responded to with a recommendation or testimonial for a business? I love your necklace! I got it at Smart Set. You look great in that dress! Thanks, I found it in Value Village. Great haircut! I got it done at Sally’s salon down the street.
This pattern of responses works to accomplish a few things. Most of which are troubling.
#1 Deflection – Yes, it can be hard to take a compliment; to accept that someone sees something positive, interesting or beautiful about your appearance and that pointing it out is not only ok but justified. Deflecting a compliment by attributing it to something beyond yourself allows you to accept the compliment as valid without requiring that you let it change your self-image positively. It’s a tool – an effective one at that, but it seems somehow unfortunate. I mean, people compliment each other for all sorts of reasons, one of which is because they generally like you and want to show that they notice and appreciate you. Since we never truly know what happens in other people’s minds, why not choose to believe that people like and appreciate you? If they want to know where you got something, they’ll ask you.
#2 Individualistic Pragmatism – A compliment is clearly all about being practical and so clearly the only practical response involves promoting an action that will end in tangible results i.e. acquiring the desirable object or service. Unpractical, relationship-oriented things are useless! Right? Wait.
#3 Capitalism – Buy things! Let’s all buy things together! I bought x at y store and if you buy x at y store, we can both have x together! No sharing; that is not allowed. If you like something of mine, get your own! Objects can be the source of fun and good times, but unless it’s your friend’s shop or a place you really want to support, why promote it? For that matter, why attribute the store when they likely didn’t make it themselves but instead probably are exploiting other people for profit? In fact, I think if someone ever compliments you on how you smell (thanks to some LUSH product), you should keep in mind the person’s name on the container and respond with “Someone named (insert worker’s name) made it!”
#4 Fear of Lying by Omission – This one gets me. I think sometimes we immediately word-vomit when people compliment us so as not to be interpreted as hiding information from them, or “secret-keeping”. When I found out that omission is considered lying, I began to panic. The part of my brain that said “don’t say anything dumb or upsetting to anyone ever” had an epic battle with the part of my brain that thoroughly believed that “honesty is the best policy” and the casualties were so bad on either side, it’s hard to tell who won. As I get older, I’m beginning to rediscover the wonder and excitement of secrets and mysteries and have been less worried about lies. People believe what they want to believe and we can only truly know our own flawed perceptions of reality anyway, so what does it matter? Truth is relative and dynamic. Be mysterious if you want to be.
Do I think that responding to compliments this way is wrong? Not at all. Do I think it’s weird? Absolutely! People are weird and often times they just do things because they imitate others and generation after generation ends up repeating strange habits. I advocate for thinking about these strange habits and seeing if they need to change. I also like to think of life as a choose-your-own-adventure story that you tell yourself, so let’s not make it too dull or predictable, ok?