The Death of Compliments

By on March 10, 2020

When I was in Kindergarten back in the 80s (Yes, I am that old), I had a teacher named Aunt Nora. She wasn’t a sister to any of my parents or any other child’s parents for that matter but we called her Aunt Nora all the same. It was the norm to call all female teachers Aunt. This non-relative Aunt Nora was a white woman with a knack for time-keeping, compassion and kindness. 

To make we all learnt how to keep time, Aunt Nora made sure every parent bought their child a little wristwatch as a requirement. And after just a few weeks at the Kindergarten, most of the kids could tell time with so much ease it shocked grown-ups.  We were ahead of our time. (Ignore the pun).

Aunt Nora’s practice of compassion was demonstrated at break time when every child was asked to share with at least one other child. It became a norm that no matter what your parents packed for you at home, you always had a lot more to eat and drink at break time. Of course some of the well-to-do parents were not too happy with this policy as it meant that their own kids were forced to share their otherwise well prepared and bountiful meals. But times were simpler then. There were fewer threats of possible backlash from parents and it was generally agreed that the school had the interest of the kids at the front so most of the parents got on board with the program albeit begrudgingly. 

And finally, to drive home her lesson of kindness, she made sure every child complimented another child over something they thought was nice. This was a tough one because we were usually expected to compliment kids we liked the least. And with time we learnt to do away with our dislike and anger for people rather quickly. One second you were angry with some chap and the next second you had to look for something nice to say about them. Strange times!

Naturally, I grew up with a healthy liking for complimenting those around me, oftentimes landing in trouble. It was only much later in life I learnt and appreciated that complimenting strangers isn’t entirely a healthy especially if they don’t know you like that. Nonetheless, I sneak in a compliment to a stranger every now and again, because I fear Aunt Nora might be watching and judging me somehow.

Complimenting anyone, male or female is an extreme sport nowadays. If you compliment a man in anyway, there will be memes flying around asking the million dollar question birthed by NBS TV’s Simon Kagwa Njala – ‘Why are you gay?”

If you volunteer unsolicited compliments to random females, you’ll most likely come off as a dangerously forward person who has no respect for boundaries and it is likely your name will be forwarded to the HR department as a culprit of Sexual harassment. It is a very sensitive ground nowadays because the right compliment from the wrong person could lead to all sorts of backlash.

Every once in a while, a man compliments a woman with no intention of getting between her legs and every once in a while a woman takes the compliment in good faith and life goes on. The sun continues to rise in the East and set in the West. The world continues to spin on its axis and no souls are sent to hell that day. 

But eight out of ten times, it never really goes well. Either the guy has lewd and far from noble reasons for complimenting or the woman has been bruised too often to take the compliment for what it is  – an innocent compliment. And so we have all resigned to a callous world where compliments from strangers are anything but compliments. 

Since we live in tricky times and a man can not compliment a woman without raising eyebrows, one would assume that complimenting fellow men is a safe ground to tread on. Well, not any more!

I was hanging with a few friends at a social event not so long ago when I noticed a guy with a very neat outfit. He seemed like the kind of guy who goes to the salon at least twice a week, just to touch up his beard and probably make sure his hairline is intact. He also appeared to have taken time to pick out his outfit, unlike the rest of us folks who simply throw on what is closest to us when we step out of the bathroom. His shoes were classy and he had on a well-pressed long-sleeved shirt. He and I were friends but not the kind that you’d say can share a long hearty laugh or go around complimenting each other over things as personal as beards.

After giving it thought, I walked over to the brother and politely asked where he bought his shoes because they were on point. He proceeded to give me the number of his shoe supplier along with another number of a guy who sorts him out with pants. Like any other guy keen to upgrade his wardrobe, I was thankful. We chatted about the government, the weather and the upcoming Formula 1 season. 

Then we parted ways.

A few days later, I got a call from the same guy wondering if I had reached out to his shoe guy. It had skipped my mind so I thanked him for the reminder and went ahead to call the shoe guy. About an hour after the call, I received a Facebook message from the same guy telling me he could hook me up with a vests & belts guy as well. In that moment, I was impressed that this guy was looking out for me this much. Usually, guys will just recommend one thing and go on with their lives. This guy was going the extra mile to hook me up with very legit fashion-forward contacts. After telling me about the vests & belts he went ahead to tell me about a connect for watches and caps/hats. I am big on watches so naturally, I was all smiles.

But then I started to feel over pampered by a stranger. Yes, he was more fashion forward than I was and his recommendations would probably help improve my wardrobe but a part of me started to feel a little uneasy. Nonetheless, I remained calm and let life go by.

The brother then called and asked if I was free so he could personally introduce me to one of his fashion designer friends – a guy who could help me create a brand new look altogether.

Then I started asking myself random questions; did I compliment this guy a little too much? Is there some strange vibe I gave off that made it seem like I needed help with my wardrobe? Did I look so horrible that this brother wanted to lift me out of the shambles of lousy fashion and onto the pedestal of fashion-forward men? Was I overthinking this? Was the guy simply being a nice guy? What the hell was going on?

A voice inside my head kept saying, “Come on Beewol, he’s only being a decent lad.” It also ventured sentiments like “Get over yourself bald man. No man one likes you that much to have a crush on you.” And when I tried to silence the thought by looking at some of my finer pictures from my younger days, it asked a very troubling question, “Why are you so bothered? Is there some dark secret you are afraid to find out?” 

Right in that moment is when I realised that our minds are always at work, fighting against what we believe in and throwing up all kinds of ugly scenarios just for the fun of it. The mind is a powerful thing and if given the time and space it can conjure up the wildest thoughts and ideas. 

I grew up knowing that complimenting people is a noble thing. And then society decided to become so sensitive. So I somewhat shelved that idea. Then I thought compliment men was easier than complimenting women because men don’t really throw up a fuss. And then it became apparent that there are over six genders so really that isn’t as Black and White anymore.

Every day that passes we must purpose ourselves to learn and unlearn things in this life so that the things we learnt when we were younger and everyone was innocent and without blemish are exchanged for more mature and well thought out ideas. There is no harm in changing one’s views after learning something horribly wrong with their previously upheld views. However in all this, let’s never give up the idea of complimenting one another.

“It is a great mistake for men to give up paying compliments, for when they give up saying what is charming, they give up thinking what is charming.” ― Oscar Wilde

a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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Beewol - The Talkative Rocker