I have a lot of older friends, and I have serious retirement envy. Having recently attended yet another retirement party, I have one more reason to look forward to that occasion—people say a lot of nice things about you.
As the speeches were starting, the person whose party it was said, “I hate these things. They’re like funerals except you’re here.” Just as extended families sometimes never gather except for weddings and funerals, we humans tend to save all the good things we have to say about each other for leave-takings or eulogies. Why do we wait until the end of things to tell others what we appreciate about them? Why not do it along the way?
It’s hard, I think. It took me a long time to learn even to compliment a new dress or pair of earrings, much less tell someone I admired the way she ran a meeting or wrote a sentence. It feels unprotected, not knowing how the person will receive or react to the compliment. It is a little bit like saying, “I love you” without being certain of the reply.
Giving someone else credit is a deeply humble act. We take ourselves out of the picture for a moment; we abdicate control of the situation; we do not know whether the gift will be accepted. If we can get over that momentary panic of self-disappearance, though, it feels good to voice the wows we often think to ourselves but sometimes don’t say.
With practice, it might get easier. We might discover that, strange as it may sound, others are delighted to hear what they’re good at. They may not know what to say in return; they may shrug it off or try to deny it because they are as out of practice at accepting praise as we are at giving it. But I can think of many less-pleasant things to spend time practicing.