Complimentary Advice

This is baseline, bedrock, Cheap and Cheerful. In fact, it’s Free and Cheerful. Complimentary and Cheerful. It’s something with such tremendous force for good in the world, but I  didn’t really understand its power until my early forties, when I saw it in play with the most outgoing person in my life, my mother.

This is a shot of my parents at my daughter’s wedding reception.

Mummy was the Queen of the Compliment because it was strictly targeted, which made it so much more meaningful to the recipient. It wasn’t just “You look great!”  It was: “You’ve always had great hair, but I’m going to worm out the name of the stylist who’s given you the greatest haircut since Peggy Moffit and Vidal Sassoon!” She’d admire, enthusiastically, the ensemble of the lady ahead of her in the checkout line, the berries at Mme. Rochon’s stand at the market, the prowess of a cab driver.

A boost from family, friends, or a great boss (you know who you are, G.) is a cupcake on a cloudy day, but a compliment from a stranger is manna from heaven. I know all of us have a couple we cherish — here are mine. Yeah, a compliment on physical appearance is special to one as shallow as I.

When I was walking to work at Crate and Barrel in my early twenties (when there were only three stores) a couple of smartass young cops called to me from their squad: “Lady, you got a licence for those legs?” Twenty years later, in Marshall Fields, a salesgirl rushed up to me and said “Ma’am, do you know you have a perfect nose?” I remember those folks with gratitude, and well, my nose hasn’t changed much.

A sincere, (non-creepy) compliment to a stranger is one of the cheeriest actions you can take in a grey world. If the checkout girl has a great manicure, tell her. If the guy down the street has the ultimate in privet hedges, tell him. If your librarian’s a hoot, tell him. If the dude at your local gas station is sporting a swell new turban, tell him. My husband admired the new counter at the Speedway and the clerks were chuffed. It didn’t get him a free package of puffs or Ice Tea, but the young clerk beamed. (Lou said it took him fifty years to learn this.)  This isn’t hard lifting mes amis, it’s just opening your heart and your mouth.

I know you all cherish a random compliment from a stranger — do tell.

When you see a great piece of cheese in the cart ahead of you in the checkout line: “Great choice! I love that stuff.” Compliment good behavior from a child in a restaurant. If a kid down the street dunks a great ball, tell him. And in the great, disintegrating web of civilization, make someone’s day. It’s  free.






Filed under Free, How Cool is That?, Into the Mystic

4 responses to “Complimentary Advice

  1. Patty

    Well said!
    It never fails.

  2. Paul

    You write really well.

  3. Kim Shook

    The compliments that touch me are from patients that I see every day. When someone is sick and frightened and still takes the time to tell you how nice and friendly you are and how much better you helped to make their experience, that means a lot.

    I gave a compliment the other day that, to me, was just a casual toss off and ended up being very important to someone. There is an older gentleman who is seen by one of our doctors. He has some issues going on and has been in the office probably 5 times in the past couple of weeks. He always comes with his wife and an adult daughter and son. He is just the loveliest man – gentle and sweet and very, very kind. The last time that they were here I told the daughter how much I liked her father and what a wonderful man he is. She got tears in her eyes and thanked me. She said that he’s had a lot of trouble in his life, but hadn’t ever been anything but loving and gentle. She was very grateful that a stranger noticed that about her dad. It made me realize just how true what you say is. And that, just because we can’t always (or ever, maybe) do BIG things for others, we shouldn’t stop doing small things. Civilization and love are in the small things as well.

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