In an office cubicle today, somebody I do not know personally, but with whom I had to deal, paid me an effusive compliment on my scarf as I came in from the cold. It is, admittedly, a fetching scarf, which is why I wear it; not overly useful as protection from an Arctic squall, but perfect for Boston’s not too serious winter. It is Scottish wool, and hails from Liberty of London. Set against a grey tweed with small flecks of the same yellow, it bespeaks an ‘I like winter’ attitude. Which I do. There are so many more sartorial options for the gentlemanly winter, and never a fearful deliberation about shorts. Long may the season last.
I was immediately buoyed by the compliment and offered hearty thanks, after which the compliment was repeated, with embellishments. I was genuinely surprised and cheered by this unsolicited fillip, and later it gave me pause. I dress only for my own sense of self-worth, rather than to garner the plaudits of others; but as a dear correspondent of mine has pointed out, one must consider the pleasure afforded oneself by the admiration of others. Moreover, I can only presume that the compliment was an expression of pleasure in the observer. What to make of all this?
Nobody seems to lose in this rare cycle of happiness. There is no symbolic violence. This is no potlatch. Nothing is ventured and plenty gained. If I am to please somebody through no device other than through being me, and if that somebody is to reflect my inherent pleasingness back to me, and to please me through alerting me to it, then I see no reason for complaint. The key is sincerity. I was in half a mind to go and ‘pay it forward’: find some random person and tell them something nice. But disingenuousness tends to cycle the other way and I thought better of it. I did resolve to compliment the next person who pleases me in such an unintended fashion. And then changed my mind.
You see, paying people compliments isn’t as easy as all that. Compliment a woman your age or younger and you might be considered indiscrete. Compliment a man of practically any age under geriatric and you might be considered all kinds of indiscrete. Of course, indiscretions such as these have their place, if played properly; but a slap in the face or an embarrassed blush doesn’t exactly herald an ever ascending cycle of mutual bliss. The moment must be right, spontaneous, and uncontrived. I can’t exactly pinpoint what makes such a moment, but today I had one, and I saw that it was good.
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