Wissot: A New Year’s resolution worth considering
By the end of January, if not sooner, there’s a good chance the New Year’s resolutions you made to lose weight, stop smoking, and begin exercising will have succumbed to the perils of procrastination. Your main source of exercise will not be taking a walk but walking to the fridge. As the poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” Setting goals is energizing, but achieving them is where the rubber meets the road.
I’ve got a different New Year’s resolution for you to consider. It’s much easier to achieve than dieting, exercising, or quitting smoking. It doesn’t require hours of discipline and dedication. It’s good for your psyche and might, though you won’t ever know, brighten someone else’s day. And the only demand it makes is that you lift your face from your smartphone in public.
I’m referring to giving instinctive, instantaneous, spontaneous, compliments to strangers you meet on the street, in stores, boarding a plane, attending a concert, going to a sporting event, wandering through a museum, standing at a bus stop, walking into a bar, playing in a park, or sitting in a dentist’s office.
Because the observation and reaction happens so quickly, the compliment usually pertains to an article of clothing (great hat, cool shoes, lovely scarf, snazzy coat) or something about the person which you admire (their hair, their smile, their laugh). The compliment is given without thinking about what you’re about to say before you say it and is devoid of an ulterior motive like when employees suck up to their boss or when men flatter women in a seductive manner. The anonymity of your relationship with a passing stranger provides a semblance of security for you (spontaneous compliments are handed out too quickly to be rejected) and an air of authenticity to the compliment (why else would a stranger pay me a compliment if they didn’t mean it?).
I’ve already indicated that there is no way to know the effect the compliment has on the person receiving it. Only they can determine its value. For the most part, I enjoy being complimented for anything about me that somebody liked. But that’s me. I don’t presume that everyone else feels the same way.
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What I do know is that I feel good when I compliment someone I don’t know. I view it as an act of acknowledgment, a recognition of that person’s existence similar to when we say good morning to someone we don’t know or hold the door open for someone we’ve never met. I love traveling in the South because people from that region are completely sincere when they say good morning to a stranger. Their good mornings are an expression of Southern hospitality.
I compare compliments to laughter and applause. Laughter is a spontaneous reaction to something you find funny. It’s impossible to laugh at something you don’t find funny. Trust me, I know from my days as a comic when jokes I delivered bombed.
The same is true of applause like the clapping which takes place at a music concert or the cheering which happens at a football game. I clap and cheer because people I don’t know (a band or a team) are entertaining me with what they are doing on a stage or a field. As with laughter, you can’t force someone to clap or cheer if they don’t feel like it.
If the focus on the attractiveness of someone’s appearance seems shallow and trivial to you, think of it this way: responding to attractiveness is what we do all the time with inanimate objects such as the shape, color and fabric of a chair or sofa.
If I walk into someone’s home and the furnishings are striking, stunning, eye-catching, I tell them that immediately. If I see a car on the street with a knockout design (the Lucid is flat-out gorgeous), I share my excitement with friends. It’s not feasible to compliment a painting, but if I was in the Reina Sofia National Art Museum in Madrid fawning over Picasso’s iconic indictment of war, “Guernica,” and the painter happened by, I would definitely say to him, “Pablo, that is one hell of a painting.”
Why shouldn’t we give to people the same expression of appreciation we freely bestow on inanimate objects? The Lucid car or a Picasso painting won’t benefit from my paying them a compliment but the man in the blue blazer and the woman in the wide-brimmed hat certainly might.
What about family and friends? Don’t they deserve to be complimented? Yes, of course, they do. The advantage we have in complimenting them is that we can plan what we want to tell them in advance which isn’t possible with a stranger. A compliment is a compliment is a compliment. As long as it’s a genuine expression of how we feel at that moment in time, whoever the recipient is doesn’t matter.
Happy New Year, dear readers.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.