For many years, I have had a problem with this exchange:
“Hey great show tonight!”
“Eh, it was kinda terrible actually.”
Why? Because someone just gave a subjective complement, and the recipient basically just told that person that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Even if the show really was terrible and the compliment-giver is just being polite, it should be appreciated with a simple “thank you.” (See previous blog post from eons ago about how it is ok to lie and say “good show” even if you really didn’t think it was.)
I have recently come upon another similar situation in which a reaction – and one that you might think sympathetic and helpful – could be improved. I was in the running for a job a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t get it. Many of my friends attempted to console me by saying things like “That would have been a nightmare job anyway” or other disparaging things about the job itself. Now, I know that everyone was trying to make me feel better (I should say that I have fantastic friends, by the way) but to my surprise the result was that it made me feel like I was an idiot for wanting the job so bad in the first place and that if I’d gotten it my friends would have only been pretending to be excited for me.
So what have I learned from this? That I was an idiot for wanting that job. Ok not really.
What I learned – and this is a little more touchy-feely than I tend to be – is that when you’re self-esteem is taking a little trip to rock-bottom, even the best intentions can be twisted around to make you feel worse. I’m becoming a big believer in the notion that a lot of the time, our job as friends is just to listen, tell our sad friends how great they are, and avoid any other judgment. By bad-mouthing the thing they’re upset about, it’s like we’re telling them they’re stupid for caring about that thing.
The same applies I guess for break-ups; there’s always that urge to say “Hubert was a jerk anyway. The only thing great about him was his name.” And then Hubert’s ex-girlfriend feels like a big dummy, not only for having been with a jerk, but also because her friends apparently never liked him and were just tolerating those game nights when everyone else wanted to play Balderdash and Hubert would only play Risk.
Who knows? I don’t know. I’m certainly no expert on “feelings” or “being a good person” but I figured I would share these potentially obvious observations.