Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Economy of Compliments

I think there are really two main groups of people in the world.  Those that give out compliments like Tootsie Rolls at a Memorial Day parade, and the people who give out rare compliments like Scrooge McDuck sharing his gold with the Beagle Boys.  Or something else that happens infrequently.

I am clearly a card carrying member of the Tootsie Roll group.  Particularly with Hallie, I honestly worry that I praise her too much, like she's going to start tuning me out soon. Then my approval won't mean anything at all, because hey, mom always approves.  I'm hoping that that isn't how it works, but should I back off a little?

Then there is the Scrooge McDuck group, and I like the way this group operates.  It's like inflation in the economy (except, obviously I don't like inflation. Right? Inflation is the bad guy in economics? So maybe it isn't really quite like inflation. I never did well in my economy classes.  What was the name of our professor Stacy?)  If you rarely give out compliments, then it means a lot more when you actually do to the person who recieves it.  At least, that's always the way it is in movies when the stern, taciturn father finally tells his son that he loves him and has always been proud of him and all the women in the audience are silently weeping into their wadded up tissues.  My compliments rarely have that affect on people.

Now, to clarify.  When I give a compliment, it is always a sincere, honest approval of something that I genuinely like.  I don't go around tossing out empty Tootsie Roll wrappers that I've refolded to look like they have candy in them, if you know what I mean. Oh, you don't?  Well, I mean I don't give out fake compliments.  The thing is, I pretty much like everything... Let me use movies as an example.  When we go see a movie, you can pretty much guarantee that I will like it, and Devin will not.  You could make some money on us if you could ever find someone to bet against you on it.  (is that how betting works?)  See, while there is a whole entire group of movies that I will just never go watch because I have no interest in seeing them, of the movies that I will see I don't ask for much: entertain me, and keep it clean.  If you follow those two rules, in my eyes we pretty much have a winner. But for Devin to start giving thumbs up you have got to work out your plot, your acting, your cinematography, the background music, your CGI, and you better not catch yourself being cheesy.  No joke here, folks.  And that's why it really means something to make it onto the list of movies Devin likes.  It doesn't take much to get on mine.

And that's kind of the way I am with everything. Did you try? Did you make an honest effort?  Do you do your best?  I like you for that, and I'll find a way to compliment you.  Or are you wearing pretty shoes? Done your hair a new way? Look extra happy?

But does my compliment feel empty because you know that I'll turn around and give one to the person behind me, too?  Even if mine was completely sincere?  I know that I've deviated a little off my scheduled topic, but I got all worked up thinking about compliments from your comments on my last post I had to slip this one in here.  And be honest with me. I can take it. If I need to search out a help group for people who are compulsive complimenters, that's what I will do.


  1. Hm, this is a tricky one. If you stick to the movie example, I definitely think Devin's way is best. Because a lack of plot/character development, cheesiness, and so on shows a gross lack of effort. They couldn't be bothered to do a good job on it.

    But with people it's a bit different. I think both ways can be appreciated. As long as the frequent complimenter is sincere, then people will appreciate those compliments I think. But a person will also appreciate compliments from the person who doesn't give them all the time. (I don't think this method always means disapproval when lacking a compliment. Just that you have to go above and beyond the ordinary and every day to receive one.)

    What a person prefers to receive could vary from person to person perhaps? I will appreciate any compliment, but I'll admit that thinking about earning the hard-won compliment gets me more excited/motivated. I guess because the rare one seems like a recognition of the effort and work I've put in to earn it. Others may not care so much either way or may prefer the frequent compliment style.

    This was a really long way to say that I think there's a place and a need for both complimenting styles.

  2. Your example of the non-complimenting father reminded me of a joke about the Irish man at his wife's wedding. He told the congregation that he loved her and that she was a wonderful wife and mother, and that he almost told her that a time or two. It's a funny joke, but sad. Elder Bednar gave a talk a while ago about telling people publicly things that need to be heard privately and often. Tell people you if like them or something about them, but make sure you give sincere compliments. People have the need to be recognized and appreciated. Our sincere compliments and praise don't become cheap because we dole them out too easily.

  3. how much a complement is felt or means has little to do with the frequency they are received and everything to do with the circumstances. The more deeply and truly the giver of the compliment feels the words he is saying the more emotional impact and weight they will carry. Also the more the receiver respects and desires the giver's approval the more their strength is magnified (or unfortunately, diminished if the receiver has little or no respect for the giver).

    Respect and desire for recognition is what gives such strength to the taciturn father's words and removes any weight from the boot-licking toadie's.

    I really like your blog Amy. They are impressively written and thought provoking.

  4. I don't think you compliment people too much. I never got annoyed that Amy was to...complimentary, lol. But as for complimenting your kids, it is my opinion that you can't give too many compliments. When a child trys something, even if he fails, compliments and encouragement are essential. When Asher stands holding on to nothing for 3 seconds before falling on his butt, he's looking to us to cheer him on, and I am more than happy to do that.

    I don't think that Hallie will stop hearing your compliments if you give them frequently, as long as you're complimenting honest efforts and good behaviour (which I'm sure you are), and not bad behaviour. There's nothing wrong with a child who knows and understands that her mom has got her back.

    On the flip side, if the compliments are withheld, and the child thinks that no matter what they do, they won't make the surly "old man" happy, they might try harder, or they might not. And when they travel down a path the "old man" doesn't approve of, they might think, yeah, whatever, he doesn't like anything I do.

    Of course, these are both extremes, and a long way of saying, I think you're doing fine.

  5. As long as they are meant, there is definitely nothing wrong with giving many compliments. What is the point of thinking a compliment if you don't share it? And really, kids aside, other people won't really know if you're a 20-compliment-a-day giver or a 1-a-year giver, so the frequency doesn't matter.

    I agree with Melissa that you really can't compliment your children too much. Their knowledge that their mother thinks they are amazing should be rock solid. :) Of course, along with your pride and potential strand, we don't want them to have big egos, but you can manage that in ways other than withholding earnest compliments.

  6. If you find a support group let me know and I'll go too. I loved the tootsie roll analogy a lot. (See I can't go 2 sentences...) I read a book (Unconditional Parenting) that discussed complimenting your stated some things I never heard before or considered about complimenting, it was interesting and a little hard to take too for complimenters like us. I recommend it just to get other ideas on the economy of compliments.