Compliments Gone Wild
How Not to Use Praise


You’ve been a very attentive audience.  Thank you.  I like praise, too.  In fact, I’d like some praise for here, and some to go.  But please be certain it’s praise you’re giving me, not butter-up, brown nose, peer-hopping, lip-service. 

Praise is insightful, specific and heartfelt.  It works best with good timing. Shortly after someone does something praiseworthy is ideal.  It is then that the receptor channels are most open.  If praise is postponed, timing should be gauged, based on when your praise can best be absorbed and felt by the recipient.  After all, that’s the point of praise.

Mark Twain said he could “live for two months on a good compliment.  The key word there is good.  Ethically, praise should be realistic.  Otherwise it’s not praise.  It’s a bullshit.  For example:  If you tell someone they’re a very good listener, they should be listening.  If you do a lousy job at praising, and you’re praised for it, that’s lie.  Are you listening?  I hope so.

In the world of divine being (or as I like to call it) proficiency, words should correspond to substance.  Even in an absurdist world, giving praise or passing judgment inspires development . . . in absurdity.  Bravo abstractionism!  A good compliment inspires.  A bad compliment encourages mediocrity or worse yet something unseemly, like Newt Gingrich.

Case in point.

This Monday, Chris, an acquaintance of mine told me, “You’re the best.”  All I had done was answer an easy question.  The answer was 5 words long and I didn’t have to look anything up.  It goes without saying, that I know that I’m not the best.  Of course, I’m not the best.  But for the record, I will gladly accept the compliment “You’re the best,” if I’ve done something that’s exceeds your expectations.  This was not the case with Chris.

And no and I’m being anal.  I like wordplay and irony.  But this was mindless lip service.  To randomly dole out “You’re the best,” is a step too far — at least for me on Monday.  So rather than say thank you to Chris, I decided to go with the flow of inappropriate response. “Fuck you,” I said.

That’s called downgrading the language.  You can try it at home.  It is vulgar, but if it is understood there will be laughter and you will improve your personal relationships.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of Hollywood speak.  You know, words like fabulous, marvelous, and glorious.  These are all sumptuous words. But they should be used sparingly — like when things are genuinely almost excessively wonderful.  Otherwise, they become dead words — words with no meaning or impact.  How sad.

Granted, saying “Fuck You” to Chris wasn’t the best choice of words.  If I went the mediator-ombudsmen route I would have simply said, “I hope that next time you’ll compliment me realistically when I answer an easy question.  It will help me understand our relationship better.”  But that would have been silly.  What I really should have said is “Well, bless your heart.” That’s the most effective response to an overheated compliment.  I learned that from a South Carolinian. “Well, bless your heart” has the capacity to take the wind out of someone’s sails without them even knowing they’re in irons.  “Well, bless your heart” coveys charity for the less fortunate with just the right amount of salt.

Yesterday, I was showing my ID to a cashier at Patagonia. I was charging shoes there  — the store not the place in South America. The cashier looked at my photo and said, “You’ve got long hair.”  She was right about that.  I have long hair on my ID as well as in person.  I pointed out to her that the DMV photographer had cut off the top of my head in the photo on my ID and kept my receding hairline out of frame.   I framed my face with my hands and mimicked the ID.  The cashier said, “Ahhhh, Wasn’t that nice of them?”

I laughed.  That was the wittiest thing I’d heard so far that day.  So I told her so.

I’m not sure if she understood my compliment.  But that’s OK.  Thank god she didn’t say, “You’re the best.”

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast November 19, 2010

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California