And the second new commandment is this – THOU SHALT ACCEPT COMPLIMENTS WITH GRACE.
It’s a very hard thing to do; it takes practice. We so habitually tune our inner voices in to the negative that the positive doesn’t always get through, let alone heard. You’re going to be late; you haven’t practised enough; you’ll never achieve anything if you don’t get on with whatever it is. You need to decide what to cook for dinner, the novel’s not going to write itself, what if the medication that keeps this household going is affected by Brexit? You haven’t read the thing you should have read, the deadline for registering for after-school clubs has gone, you said you’d make a cake. Oh and you haven’t started writing Christmas cards and it’s the eleventh today, you do know that, right?
And then someone says something nice to you. ‘I like your coat.’ (What this? I bought it online because it was incredibly reduced and I was desperate, it doesn’t quite fit across the shoulders but it has to do, and the colour is much brighter than it looked on the website, it’s a bit garish.)
‘I really enjoyed the concert on Saturday.’ (Oh no, did you hear how badly I messed up Oh Holy Night? I felt so dreadful for the soloist. I’d practised, it was fine in the rehearsal, I don’t know what happens to me in performance, everything goes wrong, I started learning too late.)
‘Your house feels so lived in.’ (It’s a complete tip, I know, I never seem to get time to tidy, and the moment I do, the children start a new project, and everyone uses the kitchen island as a dumping ground anyway, it’s a lost cause.)
‘This is a lovely cake.’ (Oh it only takes a few minutes to throw together, honestly, it’s nothing, it practically bakes itself, and I took it out of the oven too late, that’s why the edges are a bit dry, I’m so sorry.)
Imagine talking to a child the way you talk to yourself. Imagine training a child to see an insult veiled behind every compliment. Imagine every effort that child makes being slapped down instead of recognised. So many of us have a horror of coming across as smug or arrogant that we deflect compliments. But a compliment isn’t an opinion that originates in our own head. A compliment comes from something about us that’s touched something good and kind in someone else. It’s not about us – it’s about them. If we choose to see the compliment as a barb, we turn it into one, regardless of the true intention behind it. If we simply smile and say thank you, the compliment sets off a virtuous circle. Your coat brightened someone’s day; they said so, and in doing so brightened yours; everyone walks away a little happier.
Of course, the advanced level is to recognise your own innate marvellousness. To value the unique blend of skills and experiences that make you you; to cherish your broken parts alongside your strengths, to love yourself without condition or comparison. But if that’s too much right now – if, for whatever reason, today is not the day for that – then there’s always tomorrow.
Thank you for reading. I’m glad you like my coat.