I noticed the other day that over the last year, I’ve had several experiences that have all been teaching me a lesson about compliments and praise.
Last year, I went to a Charles Darwin Uni Christians camp, and over that week we played a game called “Secret Angel”. You were given a random person that you had to be especially nice to IN SECRET. You couldn’t let that person know who was being so nice to them. Hence “secret” “angel”.
It was a great idea, and lots of the students got incredibly creative, with notes of praise or compliments, coded compliments, flowers at the door and treasure hunt clues buried in the jelly… but at first the game really hit me for six! I couldn’t think of any ways I could be especially nice to my “victim/angel-ee/target” without her knowing who it was. Eventually I asked for some advice and that advice from several wise people got my thinking going.
But the experience really made me stop to think. It’s a pretty sobering thing to realise that you can’t think of a way to praise or bless someone on purpose. Sure, maybe you’re a generally nice person who likes everybody but that’s not enough. It’s important to be able to find ways to go out of your way to bless someone. It shows that you care enough about other people to think outside of your world and care about them. So it’s not a question of whether you care about them, it’s about finding ways to let them know. And I found that really difficult.
Over Christmas, I noticed a very good and close friend of mine I’ve known since I was a pre-schooler complimenting my sisters on their Christmas jewellery. He did it so naturally, sincerely and non-awkwardly, and I had barely even noticed their earrings, let alone mention them to my own sisters! This also really made me think. Not only do I find it hard to think of ways to praise or bless people, I’m often blind to noticing the opportunities to do it. One must do both.
After the uni camp, I asked a very wise and mature older friend of mine for some advice on blessing other people, especially with words. He has an amazing way of making you feel very special by lavishing praise on your character or the job you did. So I asked him for some advice. (The first thing he told me was to always be very careful when complimenting the opposite sex as “if there is a way for girls to misinterpret it, they will find it!” Very valuable advice- guys take note).
He told me that it’s important to be intentional. Don’t just be nice to them. Find something that they did well or that is good about them. Instead of saying “good job Jayden” you really make them feel special if you single out how persevering they were, or diligent, or how shiny the car is now. The word choice can feel weird, but if your objective is to show that you want to go outside of your sphere and focus on them, you need to be intentionally targeting them, what they do and what they are like.
Praising character traits like their “compassion” “honesty” or “diligence” is even better (if such a comparison is valid) than actions or appearances (though they’re still good I guess, especially to your sisters!) . After all, if your objective is to show that you care about them, when you praise their character, you praise a fundamental part of who they are.
I really appreciated my friend’s email (and the compliments he so naturally threw in there). In writing for this blog post, I’ve looked back on it and refreshed myself on ways to bless other people, which is something I always need refreshing on. It’s not enough to care or to sometimes show it, you want to be showing it all the time.
One last story. You never know just how compliments can affect people. Just the other week I was worrying about my public speaking voice. I felt that it was droning and harsh, and that this was something I needed a lot of improvement in. That week I was doing the Bible reading and someone mentioned to my mum what a great voice I had. This really made my day. The comment wasn’t to me or meant for me, but it still gave me new confidence and encouraged me in something that person never knew I was worried about. You never know what it might mean to them.