My granddaughter is a spirited and smart blond four-year-old. Recently she was visiting her cousins. Her cousins have a tradition that whoever says the family prayer receives compliments from the rest of the family. Darling granddaughter said the prayer so the others got to say what nice things they noticed about her. My daughter-in-law told me that as she was tucking her in for the night, her daughter was beaming. “Mommy, when everyone said all those things about me, it made me feel really happy.”
It’s also something she’s likely to remember. When we look back on our lives we see positives and negatives. Those are what stand out. Someday I’ll talk about the negative and the impact it has on us, but today I’ll talk about the positives, the compliments, the kind words that can not only make us feel happy, but can shape who we become.
I grew up in the shadows of beautiful Mount Timpanogas in Orem, Utah. Way back then there was an annual hike up the mountain for anyone who wanted to participate. Thousands each summer ascended the mountain. When I was four, the same age my granddaughter is now, my family joined the hike. I remember the immensity of the mountain, crossing a snowfield holding my mom’s hand, and my mom and dad telling everyone later that I was such a good hiker I must be part mountain goat,
When I was six and in the first grade, my teacher Mrs. Dowdle commented to the whole class that I was a good reader. When I was in second grade, my teacher Mrs. Meservy chose me and a friend to draw a huge Thanksgiving mural in the back of the room, all by ourselves. In fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Atkinson read aloud a story I wrote to the class.
These early compliments shaped the person I am today. I am a hiker, a reader, an artist, and a writer. I wonder what might have happened had these influential adults not noticed any early talents. These things that I did as a child were not just things, they weren’t just abilities, they are who I am.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. What I once felt sure about, I no longer feel so sure about. The very foundation of my belief system has crumbled. What once gave comfort fails me. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about “Listening to the Doubts…” Many of my Facebook friends and blog readers complimented that piece. It really made me feel happy, just like my little granddaughter said. To know that an experience I had with my daughter resonated with so many of you feels me with joy. It opened some dialogue with some family and friends that I haven’t talked to in years. Some total strangers responded with gratitude. About this same time, I had an experience in my ward where I shared a less that orthodox testimony about my doubts. (This is a more-complex version.) It flowed from my heart. Many of the people in my newer community responded with an outpouring of understanding and even love. They complimented my honesty in sharing something that many felt, but didn’t dare say.
Four and a half years ago we moved three miles from a beautiful part of Cache Valley to an even more beautiful part of Cache Valley. And even though I love it here and have made new friends, I so miss my old ward and the friends that were a part of my weekly life. My old friends are meeting in the our building on Sundays until their new chapel is built. And today I ran into some of those old friends. One couple complimented the piece “Listening to the Doubts…” And said how much they loved it. The wife hugged me and said she missed me. Then another couple, good friends for years hugged me and told me how much they missed me. Another good friend grabbed me and hugged me. I left in tears.
We are a community. All of us. We learn from each other and we grow by sharing our experiences with each other. Those who responded with gratitude for what a wrote a few weeks ago, and for those who complimented my less-than-orthodox testimony, I thank you. So often, we hold back. We don’t say the one thing someone may need to hear. I have a friend who is a great giver of compliments. He’s a natural Dale Carnegie. He told me once that if you think something nice about someone, you should tell them. He often calls someone up, just to tell them something he noticed about them. I’m not a natural nurturer. I am reserved and less-than-demonstrative, but I will forever love and defend the person who gives me a sincere compliment. I think we are all pretty much the same in that regard. One of the friends I saw in the church hallway today is observant. He notices the tiniest details about the people around him. He and his wife gave me a pair of hiking socks for my birthday this year because they remembered me telling them how much I love a good pair of socks. They complimented me by remembering and noticing and then following through.
A couple of weeks ago our home-teacher came over and said, “I know you must get tired of hearing this, but I loved your testimony.” No, believe it or not I don’t get tired of hearing it. I get tired of not hearing it. Does kindness ever get old? Does hearing a sincere compliment ever get tiring? Perhaps to some. But I think we ought to err on the side of complimenting anyway. I know I have so much to learn. I know there are so many times that I have failed to notice and have failed to be kind. One of my favorite lines from a movie was from the old James Stewart movie Harvey “ ‘Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”’ I do wish I was smarter, and I'm going to keep working at it, keep studying, and doing. I’m also going to have to work on giving compliments. I am going to work on being “oh so pleasant.” It’s not going to be easy.