“I can live a whole month on a sincere compliment.”
---Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain)
I once compiled a list of over fifty quotes I had collected over the years that I thought to be especially meaningful. I sent the list around to friends and relatives. Russ was the first to respond. He was always among the first and most thoughtful to respond to anything I wrote. He said that the one he liked best was the above quote from Mark Twain.
At the time, I thought he was applying it to himself. That he was saying he liked to be complimented. And to a degree that was true. It’s true of all of us.
I see now, though, that Russ not only appreciated receiving a good compliment. He was the ultimate complimenter. (It’s sad how we only notice these things in retrospect.)
But giving compliments was such a natural habit for Russ that I never paid much attention to it. Not until now, when I’m looking back and reminiscing about him, do I realize how much of a defining quality that his practice was. I can write of Russ’ honor and humor and generosity and self-discipline. I can talk about his struggles and his failures. But, for me, one of his shining qualities was one that went mostly unrecognized.
His knack at offering compliments.
Perhaps Russ consciously strove to seek out something in the people he met that was worth complimenting. Much as a comedian might seek out the humor in each situation. Perhaps Russ was purposely looking for the best in each person, even if the best might seem insignificant to anyone else. But I believe that this came natural to Russ. That he, by nature, understood that people like to feel good about themselves. And that he understood that one way to promote kindness in the world was one of the simplest ways. Just warmly and sincerely offering compliments to those he met along the way.
He would give appropriate, heart-felt compliments to everyone, wherever we went:
A compliment to the waitress for her service;
A compliment to the ticket-taker for her smile;
A compliment to a fellow carrier for his helpfulness;
A compliment to a neighbor youth for his good behavior;
A compliment to the restaurant owner for the quality of the meals;
A compliment to the sweet little old lady on his route for her thoughtfulness;
A compliment to a friend for his friendship.
And now I realize that there’s more to giving a compliment then meets the eye.
To be a true “complimenter” (It is a word. I checked it out) means that one has to be aware of each other person as an individual. And to search out the goodness in that person. And to publicly acknowledge that person’s goodness. And to do so in a warm, appropriate, affirming, timely, and sincere manner.
And Russ was the best complimenter I ever met. It may sound hokey, but Russ’ ability to give a compliment was something of a superpower. It invariably made others feel good about themselves. That is a remarkable ability.
And even now that I am aware of this trait,
and even now that I realize its value;
and even now that I try to imitate it;
I know that I fail to measure up to Russ’ standard.