Compliment Bravery


I sat in on a friend’s class the other day. It was actually the last lecture of the semester, so many of her students were just a leeeetle bit zoned out. I, of course, was paying strict attention to the subject matter … except when I was ogling the unbelievable hairstyle of the girl seated in front of me.

She had taken her short bob and pulled it back into what can only be described as a sunflower of hair at the back of her head. Bobbypins and hairspray were definitely involved, as was a big heaping helping of SKILL. I was in awe.

When class wrapped up, I made myself kneel down in the aisle behind her, tap her on the shoulder, and tell her how spectacular this hairdo was. As always, I expected a bit of a brush-off, and as always, I was greeted with warmth and surprise and delight. We chatted away about how she wrangled it into that configuration, and how sometimes she tried to do the ‘do and failed, and had to give it up for the day. And it felt great and real, and the great realness of it ALMOST eclipsed the fact that when I attempted to stand, my boot heel caught on my floor-length skirt not once, not twice, but three full, awkward times before I could rise and exit.

As much as we treasure the compliments we receive from friends, family, and loved-ones, it’s hard to deny that compliments from strangers are frequently more enduring and illuminating. Deanna Raybourn writes about a high school English exercise in which her entire class was asked to submit a single anonymous compliment to every classmate. She STILL HAS those little slips of paper, complimenting her on traits she may not even possess any longer. I will never, ever forget a compliment that a dental hygenist gave me at least five years ago. And I do not doubt that Fantastic Sunflower Hairdo Girl will remember my chat with her happily and fondly for a good long time. Stranger compliments take bravery to give, but their effects can be profound and magical.

Give one today.

Image courtesy smcgee.

Originally posted 2009-05-15 05:58:00.

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29 Responses to “Compliment Bravery”

  1. Laura.

    oh, totally! i remember seeing a woman several weeks ago, crossing e. hennepin in a bright yellow trench, belted over a kelly green patterned skirt, with patent fire-engine red heels. i was so taken with her color combo, i couldn’t help but blurt, “i love your colors!” as i breezed past her. i think saying something even helped solidify the lovely combo in my head as well, and she totally beamed as she said, “thank you!”

  2. Cupcakes and Cashmere

    kudos to you! often times i see a girl with a fabulous purse or the prettiest eyes and i shy away…but you’re right, nothing’s more special than getting a compliment from a stranger. well done. i’m officially inspired. xo

  3. casey

    I have to admit, those are sometimes the best compliments I get–are from complete strangers who are genuine! 🙂 Not to say that I discount the ones from my friends and family (or their sincerity)! 😉 I must admit, I really love to compliment other gals I see who look amazing. Nothing is better at boosting fashion morale than some good, positive affirmation. 😉 Sometimes I fancy myself a little “fairy godmother of compliments”. hehe!

  4. Erin

    You are totally right. In college, I had to go to the cashier’s window for something, and before I said anything the older woman said to me, “You have such a pleasant face.” Kind of a weird compliment, but I’ve never forgotten it. Another time, around the same time, a sorority girl that I had totally prejudged without knowing her randomly said to me, “You are just so pretty.” More than flattering me, it was a lesson: DON’T JUDGE!

  5. Laura.

    yay! i will come visit you tomorrow! i am excited to meet youuuuuuu!!!

  6. Sheila

    I love complimenting strangers, just to see the smile bloom across their faces.

    I will try to give some out today.

  7. miss cavendish

    At my children’s school, on every birthday, the birthday girl or boy sits on a “throne” and each student pays him or her a genuine compliment about his or her character. I like this, though an “I like your shoes” (to an adult) is always nice, too.

  8. Audi

    So true! Actually the most memorable compliment I’ve ever gotten wasn’t really for me at all. I was walking Georgie one morning and we passed this punk skater boy, maybe 16-17 years old, and as we approached him I could tell he was completely taken with Georgie’s floppy ears and prancing gait; plus she was wearing her backpack, which seriously boots the cuteness factor. Anyway as he passed I could see in his face that he simply could not help himself; he shook his head and smiled and said, “That’s a really cute dog, miss.” I don’t know what it was about the way he said it, or maybe it was just the fact that a 16-year-old boy would even bother saying something nice to an over-30 woman, but it still brings tears to my eyes to remember it. People can really surprise you sometimes.

  9. Melissa de la Fuente

    Hi darling Sal! Oh, I totally agree….but, I always venture forth and freely give them out! 🙂 I always assume the folks are going to think I am nuts but, I know how great it feels when someone randomly compliments you! It may make someone’s day or make them walk a little taller! 🙂

  10. Sal

    Melis: I am not even REMOTELY surprised to hear that you practice compliment bravery on a regular basis!

  11. WendyB

    I love giving out random compliments. It always makes my day better. Of course, I like getting them even more!

  12. Heather

    My sixth grade English teacher had us fill out a sheet complimenting each of our classmates individually. I still have it and whenever I try to figure out how I can improve myself – I look back to find out what people liked about me then.

    To this day, I always try to compliment people – especially if they look like they’re having a rough day. Thanks for encouraging us to keep complimenting!

  13. elena-lu

    i always think my family loves me so they will say sweet things and they do but when someone who i dont know lets me know they think something on me or about is cute or pretty or nice or whatever its like WOW really yeah? cool ok it MUST be true then! haha yeah i think the strangers compliment really makes me smile

  14. AsianCajuns

    I’m going to! Some unwitting shopper at Ikea will get a compliment from me! Oh! or I’ll start now- Sal, you have gorgeous hair!
    Happy Friday!

  15. captivateme

    what an inspirational post. . .the perfect sentiment to start my weekend off with!!

  16. La Belette Rouge

    I have made a commitment to tell every woman with amazing white or gray hair how beautiful it. I love to see how they react and they often tell who they are with what I said.

  17. futurelint

    I’m totally shy about doing a stop-and-compliment but I am a big fan of the drive-by, err, walk-by compliment… I walk around uptown a lot and often compliment girls who are walking fron the opposite direction on the sidewalk… a quick “Cute skirt!” or “Cool glasses!” and I’m past them, embarrassed stop-and-compliment free. It might be cheating, but I do it almost every day!

  18. The Seeker

    Oh yes, you’re so right about compliments….


  19. The Raisin Girl

    It’s true. Compliments from strangers really do endure. I remember in sixth grade I had just dressed out for gym, so I was in ratty sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt, and my hair was really long, and I just let it hang over my shoulders.

    And this boy that never spoke to me, that I didn’t really know, turned around and told me I had really beautiful hair. That was eight years ago, and I still remember it.

  20. K.Line

    Oh, I love a random compliment – both giving and receiving! The other day I styled an outfit in a new way and one of my coworkers came to my workspace to tell me she had seen me walk down the hallway and she thought my curves were really great in the skirt. That was so genuine, friendly and thrilling for me. Can’t wait to wear that combo again!

  21. Simple Elegance

    This is so true! Compliments from strangers are the best kind, because you know they aren’t just saying it to stoke your ego. I think making a practice of complimenting strangers regularly is a good idea 🙂

  22. Annie

    I love this. My dad once told me about an old man whose teacher had the class write compliments to each other when he was a child. The man kept the paper all throughout his life–even took it to war with him! It’s amazing what an impact that can make.

  23. dapper kid

    How wonderful! I always make sure to compliment strangers, it usually ends up in rather interesting conversations 🙂 Plus the smile you see them leave with is always worth it.

  24. mysterycreature

    There is nothing like a compliment from a stranger. And in the same vein, sometimes nothing can make you feel a better person than complimenting someone you’ve never met before, taking the courage to step up and make someone happy.

    Lovely post!