I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of complimenting people lately, especially after this past weekend.

Awhile back, I was reading an old entry in The Last Psychiatrist and he mentioned (it was really only a mention to make a grander point) that the amount you value the compliment depends on how much you value the person giving the compliment. More specifically, how much you value the same quality in the person giving it.

For example, if someone you think is unattractive calls you attractive, you may not place a high value on what the person says. However, if someone whom you think is attractive tells you that they believe you to be attractive, the compliment suddenly has more weight. (Thinking about it, the same is true for insults and criticism too)

This came to mind recently because I had the chance to hang out with a person who I think is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Somehow, in the course of our conversation, I told him that. He seemed a little taken back but responded in kind. I took this as a huge compliment and was very flattered when he said that.

I spent some time later trying to figure out why I was so flattered (taking into account that it is a more specific and unique compliment than one might be used to hearing) when TLP’s words came back to me. After more thought, I realized that this is a reason that I hold back from complimenting people many times. I feel that coming from me, the words might not hold as much weight.

(Slightly off topic, but I think that as a society we’ve also been taught that withholding things, such as our kind words, makes them more valuable and sought-after; akin to scarcity economics. Something I’ve been reading about lately and trying to break down in my own mind.)

However, back on topic, getting the chance to tell this person how interesting I thought they were (it was both in context of the conversation and in a neutral, safe environment) and, as a bonus, hearing that they thought the same of me, has opened my eyes a little bit. It degrades people to assume what they think of me and takes away their autonomy (yes, more I’ve learned from TLP) when I assume a compliment from me may not mean much.

So, I guess, lesson learned.