I never have learned how to accept compliments gracefully. With insults, I know where I”m at; self-defense kicks in and I turn icily cold and dryly cutting. But one enthusiastic word, even from a lover, and a blush warms my cheeks and I start to stammer.
Part of my difficulty is that compliments are rarely delivered at the time of whatever they are praising. Meanwhile, I’ve moved on to some other project. I’m no longer engaged by whatever is being complimented, so much so that it could almost have been done by someone else.
That is especially true when someone compliments a piece of my writing. The facts that I crammed into my short-term memory and the arguments to structure them are no longer there, having been nudged aside by the facts and arguments for the next piece that I’m doing. I imagine that writers on tour to promote a book they finished a year ago must feel the same way.
Another part of my difficulty is that I am convinced that compliments are not healthy for me. I know that those delivering the compliment are being enthusiastic or polite, but part of me regards their kind words as the equivalent of a plate of cinnamon buns that’s being pushed under my nose – however enticing, the compliments seem unhealthy, like far too much of a good thing.
But the main reason I squirm is because of a bit of my own hypocrisy. From all my childhood heroes from King Arthur to Robin Hood, I’ve learned that modesty about my own accomplishments is a virtue (an attitude that makes my years as a marketing consultant more than a little inexplicable).
Yet, at the same time, I can’t help hoping that someone is noticing those accomplishments. Receiving a compliment forces me to confront this contradiction – and, since I am even poorer at lying to myself than I am at receiving a compliment, the whole experience leaves me in confusion.
While part of me thinks that I shouldn’t enjoy the compliment, another part of me is secretly wallowing in delight. Since the two impulses are completely irreconcilable, what I really want to do is make my escape as quickly as possible.
Tell me that learning to accept compliments is part of being an adult, and I would agree with you. But in practice, I’ve never achieved complacency. The best I can manage is a “Thank you” that would rival the Duke of Wellington for curtness, followed by a quick change of subject.