Waiting in line at the grocery store, I overheard bits of a conversation in the adjoining line. “You look pretty today,” said the friendly grocery checker to a customer she seemed to know. “Oh, come on,” the woman answered in disbelief. “I look awful and you know it.” How many times has someone told you that you looked great and you responded with something like that…or like, “Me? Pretty? Oh my hair is such a mess!” These are typical responses with which compliments are so often met. Hasn’t anyone been taught that the proper response to a compliment is a courteous “thank you?” Common sense may say that it’s rude to contradict people who go out of their way to give a compliment. But it’s become common practice to dispute the flattering comment lest we be considered conceited, bragging or even dishonest. Is it possible that our casual and unpretentious American attitude toward life, combined with our direct manner and lack of ritual response has made us uncomfortable when we are complimented? Could it be that our insecurities surface and we answer with an almost automatic and flippant denial?
Many of us, when we put ourselves down, actually imagine that we are being polite. We attempt to put others at ease or boost them up, by pointing out that we, too, have our flaws. But what makes us assume that others are in such a sad state themselves that they’ll get a boost from comparing us negatively to themselves? I know that when attractive friends and acquaintances begin to bemoan about how ugly their hair is, or how fat they are getting, I simply feel irritated, not buoyed up by some sudden pleasure over my own superiority. Regardless of the cause behind our comments, when I hear myself and others thoughtlessly and continually apologizing or putting ourselves down for nothing I have concluded the response is simply due to bad habit. And not necessarily evidence of insecurity or inadequacy, so much as thoughtless habit. And if it’s mainly a matter of habit, it shouldn’t be that difficult to overcome.
Take a few moments, at home, driving in the car, wherever, and think through what you might feel comfortable saying the next time you receive a compliment. You could smile a big smile and practice saying, “Why, thank you.” You might make someone’s day by saying, “Thanks, you just made my day.” Or have some fun by smiling, sighing and saying, “Say it again.” If you prefer, simply smile in response and enjoy the good that others see in you.