Thursday, May 03, 2007


I think we've all encountered little girls who reply, "I know" to a compliment regarding her beauty. The perceived cuteness of this situation is, I believe, negatively correlated to the size of the girl.

Today, while picking up #4 from preschool, I had such an experience with an older, kindergarten age, sister of one of his classmates. I complimented her on her pretty shirt. "It's not a shirt, it's a dress." I could see she was right. It was a short, peasant-style dress which she wore with a pair of jeans. So I remarked what a pretty top the dress made when paired with pants. No big deal--still cute.

Her mother, however, was clearly mortified and began all of the little social corrections that we mothers make in public. We make them in private, too, but with less energy of heart. I will generally in this situation try to reassure a mother that I do not think she is raising her child to be an ungrateful slob by pointing out that I have 4 kids of my own, all of whom have certainly so embarrassed me in the past and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. This time, without any consideration, I let her know that I'd made quite literally the same comment myself in decades past.

I wasn't in kindergarten, however. I was a 6th grader who felt she had a lot to prove to her peers. I was wearing a long, tiered skirt and a sweater with, I believe, nylons and boat shoes. (Not quite as un-hip in 1985 as it sounds in 2007.) A boy named Alex came up to me in class and said, "That's a pretty dress you're wearing." And I replied, "It's not a dress, it's a skirt."

I came home and told my mother about Alex's silly blunder. My mother had a similar reaction to the mother I comforted today. First I was surprised. I hadn't thought of his comment as just a nice gesture. Then I felt horrible and stupid. Alex was a boy I liked. In fact, I like-liked him. He had paid me a compliment and I corrected him. That was clearly not a smart move. Of course, being in elementary school, I cannot now imagine that that move changed any course of events much. But I was beginning to learn then that this sort of thing only helped me to look like a know-it-all. My classmates didn't have the insight to see that I desperately wanted friends and thought "meticulously intelligent" was a good trait to show off to that end.

Twenty-two years later, some things are much the same. I am still insecure not only in making friends but about how those friends view me. I tend now, though, to say too little rather than too much, afraid to get it wrong.

Other things have evolved. I've gone from correcting a compliment to dismissing one, pointing out anything negative that I can find in myself to help disprove their point. I get home and I am mortified. I scold myself: "A simple 'thank-you' would do just fine!" Maybe one of these years I'll get it right.

2 fishy comments:

Jenn said...

LOL, yeah. but there's something about a simple thank you that seems prideful to some of us weirdos, huh? Somehow, somewhere along the line, after we learned not to have the audacity to correct, much less agree with the person, we learned that the best thing to do is to call the compliment-giver a liar, or at very best, sadly mistaken, by swearing the compliment is untrue, and we aren't worthy of it, to prove our humility. What's up with THAT? I'm trying hard, even in my 30s, to stop myself after mumbling "thanks" and not go on to "but I really look awful in it, I'm so fat" or whatever stupidity my self-defacing mind comes up with next.

CaJoh said...

Being a performer has helped me to be more humble when it comes to compliments. So often I know that I made many mistakes and am ready to "tell all" but realized that accepting complements with humility doesn't make you look like you are a know it all.

Good luck with being humble in accepting complements— you can do it.