Walking into a friend’s apartment not long ago, I was struck by the casual elegance of the place. The color scheme was mellow but invigorating, the wall of books passionately pruned. Every piece of artwork was obviously hung with intent, and every bit and bob on every shelf was carefully curated. The place was an aesthetic and functional masterpiece.
How strange it would have been, then, to compliment my friend on the quality of the silver candle holders she’d inherited from her parents. Pieces that were quite gorgeous, but which possessed beauty that she played no role in manufacturing or selecting. Things that were hers, but not hers.
I have friends with beautiful faces who would greatly prefer to be noticed for their hard-earned athletic figures or well-trained proficiency on the piano. I know people who possess the height and proportions of a basketball player who would rather I provide feedback on their most recent short story or coding skills.
There are a multitude of people out there with beautiful eyes, but how much of a compliment are you really paying them if all you notice is something they had nothing to do with? Something that is as representative of them and their efforts as inherited silver?
The compliment is not a difficult skill to master: Just be honest, helpful, encouraging, and appreciative of something that is truly theirs.
Update: April 12, 2017
This is something I try to remind myself to do, because there does seem to be a complimenting habit baked in to Western culture that has us appreciating whatever the hell, regardless of what showing that appreciation might say. And sometimes, it’s even nice to be told you have nice eyes, but if that’s all you’re ever complimented for, it very might well give you a complex and make your efforts seem less important than your genetics or other variables for which you can claim no responsibility.