#2. Many of Us Don't Know How to Give a Compliment
I don't know if this is a new trend or not, but I can't remember it happening much before the Internet. At least not at its current frequency. Then again, when I was growing up, I didn't have access to tens of thousands of people on places like my Twitter. But what I've noticed in recent years is that people have a really hard time giving just a simple, honest compliment. It seems like it always has to come with some sort of barb or backhand. I don't know what causes it, but I see it constantly. And I'm not the only one.
Every single writer I talk to for every site I frequent runs into this. "You're the best writer on this site. You're the only reason I even still visit this shithole." Or "I love your work. You're so much better than that piece of shit Chad Writerperson."
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Hey, dipshit, your computer's not even on. Fuckin' Chad, man.
A perfect example is my last article on men's problems with consoling a woman. It ended up getting fairly big, and the next day, I found out that they talked about it and Cracked on the morning talk show The View. I was obviously ecstatic because, holy shit, my work is being talked about on one of the highest rated morning talk shows in the world. When I posted about it on Facebook, many people congratulated me on the exposure ... while many others resorted to backhanded compliments like "Wow, that's awesome! Too bad it was The View." Or "I'm so sorry. You're too good for your work to be on that show."
Now, I'm as much of a joking smartass as the next guy, but I saw so many of those replies that I eventually had to just close out the window and not go back into that account. And I see it all the time. Some of the weirdest ones get aimed at the women who write for Cracked. More than a few have talked about a weird trend in condescending, pat-on-the-head compliments that they're not sure how to take.
We're talking about people who message them on an article that pulled 1.5 million views, saying things like "You're getting so much better. Don't give up!" Or "One day, you're going to be an awesome writer. Keep practicing. I want to see you succeed so bad!" They take it graciously, because they know the person isn't meaning to be insulting, but it doesn't make it any less backhanded. Especially when they're referring to a piece that's seen more traffic than many published authors' entire bodies of work.
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Awwww ... look how cute. They think they're people.
Aside from the occasional troll, these people don't mean any harm by it. In fact, they mean the opposite. They read something they liked, and they went out of their way to tell the writer. I find that admirable, because most of the feedback people hear in the creative industry is negative. I just don't think they ever learned how to phrase those compliments in a way that's sincere and to the point. I guess it's a skill like anything else. It's just weird that our natural instinct is to balance out the positive with a little negative.
Of course, on the other side of that coin ...
#1. Many of Us Don't Know How to Receive a Compliment
My neighbor is a polite, friendly lady in her late 80s. She lives alone and does her own cooking and chores, but bigger projects like mowing her giant, hilly lawn or carrying bales of backyard meth have to be saved for the grandkids. I pay to have mine done because I don't have the time for it, and I like to pretend I have servants. A few weeks ago, the grandkids didn't come over, so I was going to just pay my guy to do hers, too, while he was at it.
Then I remembered that, many years ago, a different neighbor decided to do me and my then-wife a favor and mow our lawn for us. It was nothing more than a nice gesture, but we didn't take it well at all. To us, his actions were saying, "Your yard looks like shit, and I'm tired of looking at it. If you're not going to get off of your lazy asses and mow it, then I am. You goddamn slobs."
Look at those condescending pricks. Nothing is more insulting than uninvited yard work.
I was just waking up after a late-night shift, and I was exhausted. But my wife was so pissed off about him mowing our lawn that I had to get up right that second and go take over for him. Now I was pissed, because even though the yard did need mowing, I wanted to do it on my schedule -- not his. Unless it was getting so tall that I could be fined for it, he had no goddamn business messing around out there. And speaking of which, why was that asshole even on our property? I could have him arrested for trespassing!
Again, he meant nothing more than making our day a little easier. He was on a riding mower, and both of our yards were pretty easy to take care of. It was his way of saying, "Hi, neighbor! I'm friendly and helpful!" It was his "welcome to the neighborhood" present.
But even outside of physical gestures like that, even vocal compliments are hard to swallow. To this day, my best friend will generally not respond at all if you compliment him or his work. He's not being an unappreciative dick (even though he's a huge piece of shit) -- he's just one of the countless people out there who doesn't quite know what to say or how to act when someone praises him.
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OK, OK, I take it back!
I mean, when the police are complimenting me on how easy I am to detain and how beautiful my penis captures the sunlight and shades my lower body, what do I say to that? "I know"?
I wish there were a class for stuff like this, because those communication breakdowns cause way more problems than they're worth. And I think that's one reason people shy away from good deeds. I guess that's why people say to just do them and not expect anything in return. The important part is that you did something admirable for a fellow human, right? At least I wish it were that simple.