When I was a girl, a particularly terrifying middle-aged woman from church told me that holding back compliments was a sin. Something about pride and whatnot. At the time, when I was already bombarded with warnings of all kinds of other sins to worry about, this was horrifying. No way the devil was going to take hold of me just because I forgot to tell Judy that her hair looked nice.
I don't know why that idea stuck in my brain, except that the deliverer is someone who used to stalk my nightmares.* But it did. And while I don't know if I ever truly believed that it was a sin, I maintain that withholding compliments is a bad idea.
That's why I have a policy that's like Thumper's rule, but in reverse. Thumper said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."
I say that if you can say something nice, you should say it.
The reason is simply that people need positive reinforcement. People need to know that the good they bring into the world does not go unnoticed. We need to know that even though life is discouraging, and even though we often fail, every once in a while we manage to do something right. Even if we do that something by accident.
And while we can often see the good that others do, we often can't see how other people struggle. Self-doubt is rampant, toxic, and mostly invisible. We have a grand opportunity to combat this great stumbling block—
It's an opportunity similar to the one that presented itself years ago at Girl's Camp, when a fellow camper sought me out to say that I had done a great job on a routine a group of us had performed. A small gesture, to be sure, unless you consider the fact that I was a stranger entering a tight-knit group of friends, and that I'd spent the whole week feeling like an outcast. That girl has probably forgotten all about what she did, but I will never forget how it felt to realize that I mattered at a time when I felt worthless and forgotten. Never.
And the truth is that you never really know what people are going through. You never really know what pain or fear they are trying to hide. And you never really know how much a kind word can mean to somebody who needs kindness.
And, really we all need kindness.
So why would you want to miss an opportunity to make that kind of an impact?
And sure, it's not an easy habit to form. I can tell you from experience that it is often scary or awkward. Sometimes you'll even find that the compliment is rejected or dismissed. But the times you fall flat are worth the times when you make a difference. As long as you are honest and sincere, you will have those moments. You will even witness miracles.
So if you have something nice to say, why don't you say it?
I'm sure Thumper would approve.
Regards, best wishes, and you are truly the best,
*I had to endure, with alarming frequency, harsh lectures from her that sometimes lasted up to fifteen minutes and often drew a crowd. I survived by employing strategic eye rolling or singing songs in my head. Though I was a little rambunctious at that age (Mormon church is three hours long, and I have never been good at sitting still), I doubt that any kid would deserve that kind of treatment. Luckily, I have the chance to not be like that.