Friday, July 29, 2011

I tried to compliment everyone I spoke with

Never Done: I tried to compliment everyone I spoke with

It's hard to remember! By 10 AM I had spoken with 3 people, all of them in the allergist's office, and as I was leaving I realized I had only remembered to compliment one of them, and that was in a last-minute, oh-yeah blurt, "You're great!" -- as I left the room. (BTW, I am allergic to rabbits, dust mites, ragweed, sycamore and sweet gum trees, and other assorted unspecified trees.)

But as with every practice, I told myself, it takes practice, and so I recommitted when I got on the subway, and thought about the range of people I would talk with over the day, and how it could be meaningful to compliment them: a opera singer who runs a classical music program in my performing arts series, my writing partner and the two film producers who have optioned my screenplay, all my co-workers, random people in the subway, cafe servers, my friends at the Mark Morris/ Brooklyn Philharmonic performance in the park.

I didn't want them to be empty compliments -- for example about fashion or other appearance instead of people's actual selves. I found myself thinking about the commitment I'd made -- compliment every person I speak with, and started to notice the urge to speak to fewer people. I witnessed a very interesting conversation that I otherwise might have jumped into, between a teenage girl and a probing adult male construction worker.

What do you do? I don't do anything. No, what do you do? I don't do anything. I'm young. What's your job? I'm 18. I go to school. What do you want to be? A doctor. What kind of doctor? I don't know yet. You have to start thinking about what you want. It's a long way off. You could be a adult doctor, a children's doctor, an animal doctor. Adult. What kind? I don't know. Psychiatry? Foot doctor. Eye doctor. You have to think these things through. Control your future. I want to be hands on.

This was the point at which I had something to compliment them both with. I started out thinking he was just being a pushy inappropriate jerk, but the truth is, he was pushing her to think about her future, and she was totally holding her own in the conversation. I found both to be compliment worthy, but held my tongue.

The IT guy at work was super helpful to me today. I thanked him frequently and told him that I loved that the photos of his children (on his cubicle wall) are gorgeous. He blushed. That's sort of a compliment, but also potentially in the shallow category.

I met the opera singer. She had great programming ideas. I told her so. I forgot to compliment the server in the cafe, but I did say the food was excellent. (It was -- house-smoked trout on quinoa salad.)

I told my writing partner he's a great writer (he is) and also that he is very skilled at keeping a serious game face during a business meeting. I told the producers they are doing a great job packaging the films they are packaging, even as they asked us to extend our option for no money.

Back at the office, I spoke with four random people who called asking if I could program their band, their show, their solo recital, or the thing they just saw at the National Yiddish Book Center. I was not able to think of a way to compliment any of them. Mostly I was thinking of a way to be really kind and warm and get them to send me their materials by email, where I have an auto response saying I'll get back to them if I have further questions or if I am interested in programming their thing.

But then I got to talk with a musician who I think is really good, and is young and just starting out with her new band, who I want to support, and I think people will really like. At the end of our conversation, I said to her, "I know I already wrote this to you, but I love your voice. I love your band. It's a real treat for me to get a chance to fall in love."

When I found out that my best, most incredibly helpful co-worker is going on vacation for a week, and offered to answer my emails while she's gone, I told her what a wonderful job she's been doing to help me through my transition. (She has.)

Let's see, I bought some tomatoes and raspberries, and forgot to compliment the salesperson, I spoke with my oldest friend on the phone and told her she's a wonderful parent (she is) and then I ended the day with three friends I planned to see and two friends I ran into at the Brooklyn Philharmonic/Mark Morris dance performance in Prospect Park. I am pretty sure I didn't remember to compliment the run-in friends (why is this practice so hard to remember???) but I went two for three with the friends I spent the whole evening with.

In conclusion, and to answer my triple question-marked question above, I think the challenge of this practice is that it is in direct conflict with my desire to avoid social awkwardness. Or, to toss the double negative, I strive to make people comfortable, not freaked out. And let's face it, too much appreciation often feels like it is a cry for attention -- from the person doing the validating.

At the end of the day (literally) I am quite interested in this practice, and want to continue to play with it -- to see how far I can push it before crossing the boundary from thoughtful to creepy and narcissistic. Oh, and your persistence and diligence in reading this blog for an entire year is phenomenal. Also, I love your hat.

1 comment:

  1. One way to play with this and maybe keep it from getting creepy and narcissistic - can you expand "compliment everyone I communicate with" to "an explicit act of kindness to everyone I communicate with"...that way, even if it feels inappropriate to offer a compliment, you can still offer an act of empathy, or assistance, or affirmation...all of which would be just as validating for the other as a compliment, I think.