50 minus 6: Complimentary compliments

Posted: 11 August 2014 in life, don't talk to me about life, personal
Tags: ,

A friend mentioned Livejournal and ‘dead but not deleted’ blogs today. Probably not the biggest surprise to anyone who reads this thing that I used to blog on Livejournal. It’s still there, a zombie blog.

I keep it as a zombie blog for several reasons; sometimes just to look back at what I wrote, say, five years ago today; also, it’s useful to have it there for reference. Sometimes, something comes up and I know I wrote about it previously. But that’s for when I’m out and about. I’ve also got the blog archived and searchable on my local hard drive.

One of the drawbacks, however, is coming across old ‘memes’/questionnaires I completed and either (a) wondering where the hell my mind was when I wrote it, since there’s no way I’d write that now, or (b) being faintly depressed that I’m so ‘stuck in my ways’ that lots of answers would be pretty much identical.

Amusing and worrying (for the same reasons above) though, is reading old memes where I asked those reading the blog to describe me in one word, or to say something about me. Some of the compliments that I remember being genuinely flattered (and sometimes surprised) by are things that, arrogantly I guess, I can still imagine people – though not necessarily the same people – using about me now. Some of them though, honestly? I can’t see being used about me other than in jest. It could be, of course, that they were used in jest back then, but I don’t remember them being so.

One set of answers in particular have amused and worried me in equal proportion today when I came across them again; it’s a set of comments wherein people posted anonymously. Even if I knew – or guessed – who posted the comments back then, there’re literally only a couple that I remember now. Most of the comments below, I genuinely don’t have a clue who posted them, and no, this isn’t a shout out to people to reveal themselves.

Quotes like:
– “You look much better now than you did in the early 80s”
– “You seem like a nice chap… but appearances can be deceiving.”
– “You’re an excellent father, and not just to your son.”
– “Sometimes you are like a dog that barks at phantasms and snaps at those who’d reassure you.”
– “You’re one of the kindest people I know.”
– “Sometimes you are a little self-obsessed.”

None of which I think I can dispute that much.

And that leads me nicely onto writing once again – I wrote about it on the old blog but apparently I’ve never done so on this one – about compliments, and my view that if they come from a stranger, or at least someone with no ulterior motive, they can probably be trusted. You might disagree with them, but they’re unlikely to be taking the piss or even taking pity on you.

(For example, and this may qualify as a #humblebrag, I once received an email out of the blue from someone at NASA, commenting upon the columns I was then writing, and saying how much everyone in his team enjoyed them. So, that was nice…)

So, that’s compliments from strangers. However, if it’s a friend… whoa, do the “rules” change. At least in my view.

There’s a school of thought that argues that if they’re your friend then they’ve no need to flatter you. They like you, and you presumably like them – as the saying goes – “with warts and all”. You may think one of your friends is ugly as sin… but you like them for who they are, not what they look like, and you certainly wouldn’t say to them that they’re the hottest thing in the room, let alone in town. No need to make them feel better – they know what they look like.

I think this is utter, complete crap. People who like other people want to make them feel better if they’re down. Perfectly normal reaction… that ends up pissing the other one off.

Why? Well, this is why, at least in my opinion. When it comes to friends, the only compliments that you can trust, in my opinion, are those where you didn’t need the affirmation in the first place.

If you know you’re good at your job then it’s nice to get the backslapping from a friend, but it’s not necessary. If you know you’re hot, then a friend confirming it merely makes you feel even better than you did.

But if it’s a compliment about something that the other person don’t believe deserves a compliment… then at best they’ll consider it insincere, and at worst a mark of pity.

Hence my view that when it comes to friends, you may trust them absolutely… and you may be right to do so… about everything… except when it comes to compliments about things you genuinely don’t believe deserve compliments. Because there will always be that suspicion (sometimes more) that it’s insincere or said out of pity. If you’re convinced that you can’t write well, or aren’t good looking, or have the grace of a pregnant rhinoceros on heat… then compliments from a friend regarding, respectively, your writing, your looks or your grace are difficult to trust.

There are things that I’ll accept compliments on in good grace… because I believe I deserve complimenting, or at least I’ve an open mind on it being a matter of opinion. I think I’m a better than ok prose writer, but no better than ok as a comics scripter. (And according to at least one ex-Marvel assistant editor, not even that.) If someone, even a friend, says they enjoyed a script I wrote, of course I’ll accept it as genuine. If someone says it’s the best script they’ve read in ages, or it’s as good as professional comics writers, no of course I wouldn’t believe them, strangers or not.

So, some things I’ll accept compliments about.

Other things though… well, I’m less likely to take them in good grace if I think they’re either taking the piss, taking pity or just plain insincere.

Some time ago, I told a friend that whereas I’ll take compliments for something I do, I’m far less able to accept them as well meaning when they’re about who I am.

I suspect that remains the case.

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Comments
  1. I think most people find it hard to give a completely false compliment. A case in point: have a look at how people comment under a less-than-photogenic newborn baby photo on facebook. Lots of “look at his little toes! adorable!” and “he looks just like you!” but almost nobody uses the word ‘beautiful’. (They save it for a better photo, obviously. Because all babies are beautiful, and only a monster would say otherwise. Or so I’m told.)

    It’s more difficult when the absence of a compliment would be noticeable and would cause hurt feelings. Most people don’t wish to injure someone over a trivial matter, so when backed into a corner, sure, if I can’t find an acceptable compliment with a grain of truth in it, and there’s really no other option, then yeah, I’ll lie.

    And because I do this, I also notice it when others do. At work I give presentations fairly often, and I’m not bad at it – at least compared to my peers. If I get a “that was great” then that’s nice, that person probably thought my presentation went well. If I get “I loved the colour scheme on your slides” followed by “that was a very interesting comment you made about the thing on the graph” then it was probably a disaster.

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