©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
I watched her, standing alone on the front steps. The service had just concluded, and it was obvious to my thirteen-year-old eyes that she was a visitor. One after another, attendees walked right past as if they didn’t see her. How they could have done so was beyond me. Admittedly I’m not very “visual” in terms of sensory preference. I am “frontal right,” however, and do tend to notice differences and when something changes.
This woman was a vision of color. Mismatched color! She wore a shocking orange dress (at least two sizes too small); shoes, an off-shade of bright red; hair, something in between. In my teenage years the term was "not well put together." I was busy being so amazed at the package that it took me a while to realize that her body language radiated discomfort.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother moving toward her. As the minister’s wife, my mother’s practice was to seek out individuals who didn’t quite fit in. She had a knack for saying appropriate words and gracious way of making them people welcome.
I chuckled inwardly and thought to myself, I bet this one stumps her!
I was wrong. “I’m so glad you could be here today,” my mother said, adding, “in this light your hair is absolutely alive with sunbeams!”
The woman literally sighed with relief. “I didn’t expect to be in town this long,”she explained, “so I brought no dress clothes. When my visit lasted over the weekend, I borrowed some so I could come today.”
Oops! She wanted to come to church badly enough to borrow clothes, I thought to myself, and was thoroughly ashamed of my earlier assessment.
Later, I asked my mother, How do you always think of something appropriate to say? That’s when she told me about canning compliments.
I knew about canning, of course. You know, the precursor to freezing. If I had a dollar for every piece of vegetable and fruit I’ve stuffed into a Mason jar I’d be rich! But canning compliments? Mother explained that there is always something about which one can affirm another individual. She claimed that it was the fastest way she knew of to help someone feel comfortable. It seems that mother had made a habit of matching a notable attribute with an appropriate accolade, which she then metaphorically canned. “That way,” she explained, “no matter who I meet, I can always open a jar and tailor (no pun was intended, I’m sure) the contents to the occasion.”
According to Webster’s, a compliment is an expression of esteem, respect, affection, honor, or admiration. In some ways, it’s akin to an affirmation. Many don’t know how to give genuine compliments because, as children, they seldom heard them. Or we may have heard them in the form of manipulation or insincere flatter. And those who struggle with self-esteem issues may be reluctant to look for ways to give compliment others. As if recognizing the positives in others somehow diminishes their worth.
It was years later before I fully appreciated the value of my mother’s novel idea. No need to stumble around, searching for appropriate words. Just open a jar and tweak the contents. Contrived, you ask? No more so than planning ahead for nutritious meals in the dead cold of a Canadian winter by preserving the rich harvest in the midst of autumn plenty.
How about your pantry?
Any jars of canned compliments on your shelves?