Let’s talk about compliments for a minute. It might sound like an insignificant topic, but I think it’s actually a pretty underrated one.
I’ll say it straight out – there were compliments that helped me progress in life. A sentence here, a word there, that remained etched in my mind and contributed to shaping my character. Examples? With pleasure.
When I was in sixth grade, I took a Bible test. I remember that it was difficult. I reached the last question breathless and without any extra time left: “Pretend that you are a journalist. What would you have asked Saul when he came back from battle?” I didn’t have time to think of a creative answer that was related to the material we had studied. I wrote whatever I could think of during the seconds I had left before the end of class – “Saul was very tired from the battle and was not free to answer questions from reporters. I let him go without an interview and he went to go rest.” I didn’t expect to be awarded any points for that evasive answer. The teacher, though, gave me the full points and even added, “What a witty and original answer! Great job!”
The next memorable complement I received was in the form of a book. When I was doing my National Service, I volunteered working with a class at a school. At the end of that year, which wasn’t such a spectacular experience for me, the teacher of the class gave me a book about leadership in the Jewish nation. The gift was accompanied by these words, in her characteristically quiet voice, “This is for you – a future leader.” To this day, it is one of my favorite books, not at all because of the content, but thanks to the warm feeling that spreads through me every time I remember that teacher and her faith in my potential.
A year later, I was a tour guide at the Ammunition Hill Museum. At the end of one of my tours, an older woman approached me to chat, saying that she just had to know where I had learned to stand in front of an audience. I smiled with embarrassment. I didn’t even know that it was something people learn how to do. At age 19, I realized for the first time that I have a flair for standing confidently before audiences, thanks to that nice lady.
I can mention several other significant stepping stones throughout my life. They all showed me something about myself, and I believe that I remember almost all of them. They all added something to my efforts to build my character, since they highlighted traits that I possessed, some of which I knew existed and some that I hadn’t even fathomed were there.
Someone once told me about a young journalist at the beginning of her career who was asked to emcee a political panel discussion in the city where she lived. This was of course the first time she had filled such a position, and the young woman nervously went up on stage. Ten minutes into the panel discussion, one of the Israeli Parliament members slipped a note to her. She opened the note apprehensively and with curiosity, and read the following words: “You’re doing great! Keep it up!” It’s easy to imagine what that short line did for the young woman’s confidence and how it helped her get through the rest of the night feeling empowered.
I believe that there are those people who are conscious of their strengths and those who are less aware. But I am sure that there is no person (!) who is so confident that receiving a compliment along the way won’t be a positive experience, even just temporarily.
This year, when I was busy searching for my own personal way of doing something in the world, I remembered those compliments again and again. To open my own business, I had to ask myself: “What are you good at? What are you the best at?” It was then that the memories began to come back, both old ones and very fresh ones. Anyone who has ever complimented me on my writing can pat himself on the back now for contributing to my decision to choose to pursue it. Those who praised the way I stand before an audience can feel satisfied that perhaps it was because of them that I teach classes and lecture on topics that interest me.
The newspaper editor who received my article and called to praise it, people who read things I wrote and took the time to call or write, or even just met me on the street – thank you. I am truly grateful. You helped me continue doing what I love to do and discover myself just a bit more.
Don’t underestimate the power of compliments. Give them out to anyone you can. To the kindergarten teacher, the community coordinator, your friend or family member. It could be that because of you, a person will develop into someone better, someone empowered.
To conclude, I must add the opposite point as well; unfortunately, I know this from experience too. If a good word can be so constructive, a negative word can also destroy. A negative word can collapse an entire building. Criticism can ruin the fertile ground where something wonderful could have flourished. Always think which words you want to choose.