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10 July, 2008

Taking a compliment

Location: awkward places
Mood: pensive

I just read a blog by a friend and fellow blogger. This blog was titled "Receptivity: Taking a Compliment". This friend is a really good writer (we'll see how she takes that compliment). She is an especially good writer because for her, blogging is not about self-exploration via self-absorption. A lot of her writing looks outward as a means of reflecting inward. And this is something that I appreciate. Most of the places I go on here, and sadly, out there as well, are more along the "me - me - me" vein. This is something for which I have received a number of criticisms in my life (not with respect to blogging, but with respect to the "out there" part of things).

Anyway, her blog inspired me to do this topic in the Mick Feeble way. I am not sure what that means, but I think it is going to be me telling you about how I deal with compliments, and what it probably means to me. I may accidentally make some type of universal observation, but it will probably just be self-indulgence, as usual.

There. How's that for beginning on a totally self-deprecating note?

So, I don't take compliments well. I guess I never really noticed how poorly I took them, until recently. I am not sure if it is because recently, for whatever reason, I have been receiving more of them, or if it is that I have become even more uncomfortable with receiving them, so that I am hyper-aware of it. It has been brought to my attention by a number of people that when I am complimented, not only do I not take it gracefully, but I probably either refuse it or refute it. I often do this to my detriment. Probably, it would be more accurate to say that I always do this to my detriment.

In the workplace, this comes about regularly. Someone will tell me that they are impressed that I did something quickly, and I will tell them that it was simple, and that they shouldn't give me so much credit. This does two things. First, it decreases the credit that I could earn for an accomplishment. And second, it is somewhat of an insult to the compliment giver. Because what I have done is inform them that they do not have an accurate perception of the difficulty level of things. It is like saying "You must be stupid, if you're impressed with this!!"

Another example is that I receive a compliment at work about what a nice report I wrote, and how it is detailed, thorough, and brings up a lot of good points with great ideas for solutions, and is well-written. All that. About one report. Pretty impressive, huh? I should be proud, right? Well, my typical response to this is to tell them that it took me way longer to finish than it should have, and that I got completely bogged down in things that probably didn't matter, and that unfortunately, it detracted from my ability to work on other projects that I should be doing, and that I am really quite embarrassed at how long it took, and that I need to start learning how to generate results more efficiently. So what this did was tell the other person that I am inefficient, and it also told them that I don't respect their value of precision and detail.

This happens all the time.

Outside of work, in the band, a friend says to me that I played a great show at Neumo's. And I tell them I had a hard time hearing my vocals and was singing out of key a lot. Or I tell them that I made a ton of mistakes on the guitar, and that hopefully no one noticed. This tells them that they are not good judges of ability. Now, it may be that they were just saying this to be nice. In that case, what I did was refuse their kindness.

In a relationship, if I am told that I look really nice, and I say that I feel fat, or my hair is a mess, or I didn't shave, or my pants are too big, or... the list goes on.

Why the refusal? I don't know. Am I uncomfortable with taking credit for anything because I don't believe it myself? Or is it a perverse form of modesty? Or is it the unwillingness to let anyone close to me, because accepting kindness can lead to intimacy? Or is it that I don't wish to reciprocate, so I feel I cannot accept, like a gift?

I am not sure if any of those things are true. It might just be a bad pattern of behavior that I learned from somewhere, that I now adopt as habit. Is it me? I don't know.

Fellow blogger pointed out a really wonderful cultural response to compliments. Apparently, in Afghanistan, the proper response when complimented is "and you have beautiful eyes". This is the kind of artful language that seems to be lacking in our culture. That response not only acknowledges the complimenter, but delivers a compliment back at the same time. And furthermore, it indicates the reality which is that beauty is, indeed, in the eyes of the beholder.

I have no conclusions here.

1 comment:

  1. All that and you don't even link to me? Goddammit.

    Accepting a compliment means that you can appreciate what the other person is saying about you and let it in a wee bit. That's a scary and vulnerable thing for a lot of people. But I bet you can fake it until it becomes true for you.

    -Jane

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