“Congratulations on your award!”
“Good on you for getting such good grades!”
“What you did was so kind!”
Think back to the last time you received a compliment. Actually stop reading. Think back. Maybe it was today, yesterday, last week; why did that person compliment you? How did it make you feel: happy, embarrassed, surprised or uncomfortable? How did you respond?
One of my many weaknesses is how I respond to compliments. I’m the type of guy who ‘fixes’ uncomfortable situations with sarcastic jokes. I’m the type of guy who attempts to be humble by shooing away compliments, lest they make me egotistic. I’m the type of guy who responds with ‘compliment sandwiches.’ I’m the type of guy who can’t accept compliments. I’m like the Apostle Peter in the washing of the feet story at the Last Supper.
“[Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
(John 13:6-9 NRSV)
Friend: “Anthony, good on you for getting such good grades!”
Anthony: “There’s always room to improve, haha!”
Mum: “Anthony, congratulations on your award!”
Anthony: “Oh, it wasn’t much.”
Teacher: “Anthony, what you did was so kind!”
Anthony: “And you were so friendly too!”
Anthony: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? ... You will never wash my feet.”
Just as Jesus gave Peter the precious gift, of his own goodness, out of his own heart, people so too, give us compliments. The happiness one receives from a compliment is radiant, but the happiness from recognising goodness in another person and thanking them for it, complimenting them on that goodness, is just as radiant.
When we respond to someone’s heartfelt gift with sarcasm, downplay it, or if we deflect it with a compliment in return, we reject their precious gift; telling them that we’d rather not receive or share in their eager and freely given happiness.
But when we respond to compliments with openness, sincerity, and simple humility, we actively value the other person. We empower them through our acceptance of their shared love, giving them permission to express their gratitude. In life, we do good things – and it is okay to acknowledge that. No... It’s wonderful and essential to acknowledge that, because it’s the Holy Spirit working through us. When we accept people’s compliments, we reduce our (ironically, egotistic) independence, so as to become closer in relationship to the other, allowing them to serve us with their gift. By allowing them to serve us with their compliments, we honour them by giving them the opportunity to express how much they value us. As in the Gospel passage, we cleanse their heart, while they wash our feet, but only if we let them. How do we do that? How should we respond to a compliment? It’s simple. We say “Thank you.”
Anthony is a MYM Regional Assistant in NSW. He loves the beauty of the Catholic Church and living in the way of Mary. Anthony enjoys walking with young people as they experience the God who loves beyond all bounds. He fell in love with the Philippines when studying and volunteering in Manila for 6 months and is passionate about refugee and cancer advocacy. He wears a 'working hat' in the office, studies Psychology at ACU, and has started snorting when he laughs!