Things I do well: running, telling stories, listening, drawing, writing, organizing, etc…
Things I don’t do well: performing abstract math, folding fitted sheets, saying “no” to people, playing basketball… and accepting compliments.
If I had a third category—Things I do outright terribly—I would have to move “accepting compliments” there. I don’t think I am alone in this struggle; compliments can be difficult to accept. I often find that when someone gives me a compliment, I respond poorly. I blow off compliments or simply don’t acknowledge them. If I do truly hear a compliment, often my internal monologue minimizes or qualifies it to the point of fading away. But why?
I know that words are powerful. I know that they can impact the heart of those who hear them.
So why do I struggle and feel so awkward about accepting compliments?
Recently, I found the music video for Rachel Platten’s “Better Place.” I highly recommend both the song and the video—it hits you right in the feels. The words themselves are sweet and uplifting, but even further, the video does something unique. Platten’s video conducts a social experiment: “She invited couples and families to simply sit and look at one another while listening to her song.”
And the result?
Beautiful. Simply beautiful. As each pair looks into each other’s eyes, a glow appears. Initially bashful smiles widen and turn to tears. Often, hands reach across to be held. Some participants lean in close to each other. Some keep their eyes locked, and some sheepishly laugh and look away. Some lovingly touch the face or hair of the other. Some of the participants stand and move to cuddle during the song. Some exchange hugs, and at least one group high-fives. All the while the music plays, and all the while not a word passes between them. The lyrics of the song say enough; they deliver the compliments and caring message to the other:
It’s a better place since you came along…
Everything’s alright when you’re with me…
It’s like you really understand. You love the way I am…
You’re my favorite thing…
The reactions of the families and couples in the video show something profound: the compliments hit their mark—they touch the heart. Instead of struggling with hearing a message of love, the participants let the compliments hidden in the song go to the heart without awkwardness. Saying it in a song makes it easier to communicate and easier to accept. Rachel Platten’s lovely voice conceals the vulnerability involved in telling someone you care and the vulnerability involved in accepting someone’s care.
The song possesses a telling line which I think explains my own struggle and awkwardness with compliments: “So I pour my heart into your hands. It’s like you really understand; you love the way I am.” Giving or receiving a compliment is an exercise in vulnerability. When you give a compliment, you “pour your heart” into the hands of the other—taking a chance by showing them you care. Giving a compliment risks the other person possibly ignoring your kindness. Receiving a compliment not only acknowledges that your heart is on display but that the other person really understands. They understand you, and still they love you just the way you are. Accepting a compliment means admitting how deeply loved and admired you are, how talented, and how valued. Truly listening to a compliment requires me to admit that my own self-critical inner monologue is wrong. It places me in a vulnerable position, because it places “my heart into your hands.”
And there lies the crux: Words are powerful. They impact the heart of those who hear them. Words then, particularly compliments, require me to be vulnerable. If the participants in the music video show anything, it’s the reward that comes from giving and accepting the care and love of another. Even though it can be awkward and even a struggle to accept a compliment, perhaps a “better place” to store the kindness is in my heart.
Cover image courtesy Flickr CC user Memphis CVB, found here.