I missed the memo about giving compliments.

We’ve all heard the admonition, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Good advice, usually.  But there’s a little known corollary to this:  If you do have something nice to say, you should say it. 

I got this memo from my dear friend, Paola.  I met Paola in college and she was preternaturally cheerful and friendly.  She gave hugs and compliments unapologetically.  Shyness and cynicism be damned, she was going to spread some sunshine. 

It seems to be an unfortunate quirk of human nature, or maybe it’s just me, but it’s sometimes harder to say nice things than to say critical things.  We’re encouraged to be assertive, and to speak our minds, but usually that advice arises in the context of defending  ourselves in confrontations or other unpleasantness.  But what about speaking your mind when you observe that the lady standing next to you in the elevator is wearing a super cute hat? 


(Spoiler alert…and then Janet sneezes and Cliff says “Bless You” and then they look at each other and kiss, knowing at last that they are really are in love…*sigh*)

When it comes to giving compliments, I think people get shy because they fear looking like a kiss-ass or a creeper.  I mean, if I say something nice to someone, they’re going to think I want something, right? 

That’s why my favorite kind of compliment is the drive-by…I once saw an enormously pregnant lady at Target who was wearing a cute, colorful dress, she had her hair done and make up on…she might not have felt fabulous, but she looked fabulous.  As I passed her in the aisle, I said,”You look gorgeous!”  And the look on her face was priceless.  She said an appreciative, “Thank you!” and neither of us lingered for more conversation.  It was a quick, surgical strike of gratuitous praise for a stranger.  I think it made her day and it definitely made mine.  Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball