Walking to the 55th St. subway line at 7th ave., Rasanath and I were flagged down by a man on the street carrying CDs. “What’s up, boys?” he exclaimed, attempting to wave the CDs in our faces while we dodged them.
“Hey lady, you look gooood!” we heard the same voice say, now from behind us.
“Yo kid, cool hat!” came the progressively more distant voice.
Was this voice in fact a phenomenon? Not for New York City, no.
But it begged some important, unwitting questions. How often do we give compliments? When we do so, are we happy to give them or more feeling obliged?
Interestingly, the man on the street seemed genuinely happy to offer his compliments to anyone who’d listen. But before we model ourselves after this man, we must ask: What was the underlying motive? And are all compliments equal?
Here, we see a man clearly wanting to sell something. With it comes a certain kind of desperation, especially to get the attention of fast passersby.
I’m actually no stranger to being in that position. I empathize from my monastic days, out on the streets giving Bhagavad-Gitas to fast passersby myself.
You feel invisible! It’s one of the most painful experiences you can have. To be ignored by the world. Worse than the negative reactions was the feeling that you don’t exist.
So I get it... And yet, I ignored this man, nonetheless.
I also know why I did. Besides the fact that I don’t have the energy to talk to everybody who approaches me on the street or the sensibility that I should interrupt conversations for the sake of speaking to strangers selling me things, there was one more reason.
The weight of the compliment depends heavily on the underlying motive.
I must say, I didn’t really snag me much of a compliment anyway... unless you look at being a “boy” as making me like the man’s homeboy... which would admittedly be kind of awesome… Or perhaps he just thought we looked not at all old... But in seriousness, I could feel that it wasn’t from his heart that he spontaneously liked Rasanath and me. Likewise for the woman being hit on or the gentleman wearing a hat.
And what is a compliment without heart? Emptiness. Falls on deaf ears. Or at worst, deceives and is dangerous.
Our man with the CDs did not strike me as dangerous. His game was too plain. But we may be less plain to others or even to ourselves... When we wield compliments without understanding the motive behind them, we open ourselves to the possibility of deceit in small or large ways.
Compliments are such a crucial currency. They are not in flow enough!
What a shame to beleaguer them with insincerity. This is how we breed cynicism – enough people jump on board for an environment where no one can trust the sincerity of the other. It happens much faster than we think, usually right under the radar.
Adam Grant, celebrity-professor of sorts at Wharton business school and author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Give and Take, divides the world into Givers, Takers, and Matchers.
Givers give from the heart. They give because they care. Takers, in contrast, always calculate what they can get before they give, and have to have whatever they give add up to substantially less than what they get. Matchers create the same equation before giving, but try to make it balance out in the end.
To combat a culture where Givers morph into Matchers being exploited by Takers, and cynicism reigns, offering everyone a little bad taste in their mouths to varying degrees, we must be smart in the way we give.
You can’t give when someone will take advantage. It takes a certain maturity – the seasoning of wisdom. Most of us wish to be givers. Most of us already see ourselves as givers. But to get there in earnest is another matter.
Let us start by taking a solid first step and being earnest compliment-givers. Being an earnest compliment-giver is the most encouraging force to motivate more giving. It’s what sustains the giving in intimate relationships and prevents the divorce rate from rising. It’s the difference between an inspired workplace and a toxic one.
But the giving must be genuine. The heart must be present. To become our fullest selves, we have to really inhabit ourselves and not just go through the motions.
The results of doing so are astounding.
The results of not doing so are no phenomenon at all... They’re the subtle drudgery of our everyday lives in each sphere we encounter.
What small or great compliments have you given of late? And what was in it for you?