Thursday, March 25, 2010

I wish I could speak on THIS in church . . .

Last Sunday Muad'Dib and I sang and gave talks in church. We shared our talents with music as well as our aptitude/talents with the written and spoken word, hopefully inviting the Spirit in the process. We received a wonderful response and outpouring of positive feedback from the ward. And intermingled with those compliments I began to notice something. It became prominent enough that I commented on it at a Relief Society activity this week. But first, let me say that through this experience I have had something clarified to me. There are three kinds of compliments.

1. The Sincere Compliment. If done well, all this does is build up the person you are trying to compliment. "Your eyes are beautiful!" "That was fantastic!" "You dance like a gazelle!" "You have such beautiful calves!" "Your hair is like wet slick rock." "I love watching you on stage: you sparkle." etc.

2. The Backhanded Compliment. In a nutshell, this is a compliment that also backhands you across the emotional face with a dis. Such as:"You did so well for a girl of your size." "It's interesting to hear that song sung by an alto." "That was great considering how tired you look." "That was so well done, I'm sure no one will remember how flat you were on the high notes." etc.

3. The Self-Deprecating Compliment. This was the one that was recently brought to my attention, although this week is hardly the first time I've been ambushed by it. These might sound like, "You sounded so beautiful that I'm sure no one wants to hear me!" "Watching you dance is so moving. I feel like a cow." "I wish I could write like you. I'm so scatterbrained." "What do we need a choir for when we have the Nelson's in the ward?" "You were such a perfect Milly I don't think I can ever compare." etc.

I have figured out the problems with the last two types of "compliments." They cannot be responded to politely or without adroit skirting skills. A true compliment leaves a few humble possibilities such as: "Thank you." or perhaps, "I'm glad you enjoyed it!"

What on earth am I supposed to say when people Backhand me or tear themselves down during a compliment?! I mean really:
"I'll just mouth the words while you sing so no one has to hear how bad I am!"
"Oh, thank you."
Come ON!

"You guys were amazing. If I had known you were going to sing that well, we would not have gotten up to sing after you!"
"Thank you for acknowledging that you aren't as welcome to share your talents as we are. It's the first step, really."
Had she just stopped after the first part . . .

"No one wants to hear me talk after listening to you in Sacrament meeting. Will you do my talk for me?"
"Thank you. I'd be glad to help you bury your talents and insight."

Over half of the comments we received on our talents shared were of the Self-Deprecating type. I was getting very tired of dancing nimbly over the exposed feelings they set out for me every time they did this; trying to avoid hurting them, even though they had just said something very hurtful about themselves. One of these happened the other night, as I mentioned. We were about to sing the opening hymn.

A very funny and likable lady sitting next to me pulled out the hymnbook and said, "Now that we have Sayyadina at the table, everyone, just mouth it." To this I replied with some exasperation, "If sharing my talents causes everyone else to bury theirs, I will not be singing again in this ward any time soon." She just looked at me for a moment. Then a lady across the table made a comment to her and all was laughter.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that she meant that they would not sing. I know it was supposed to be a compliment to me, but it's just getting stupid, and I was tired of it.

It reminds me of that quote by Marianne Williamson:

"Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves - who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented and fabulous. But honestly, who are you not to be so?
"You are a child of God. Small games do not work in this world. For those around us to feel peace, it is not example to make ourselves small. We were born to express the glory of God that lives in us. It is not in some of us, it is in all of us. While we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. When we liberate ourselves from our own fears, simply our presence may liberate others."
I know that we as a church and even as a culture are warned against pride. I can understand how the two crappy types of compliments have stemmed from fear and misunderstanding not only of themselves but of pride. That understanding doesn't keep me from disliking it though. I have learned that good pride is okay, such as being a good steward and thankful for all we have. Bad pride is thinking we are "better than."
I'm a talented lady. I haven't hidden that fact for quite some time. My father taught me that if you are asked to share your talents, do it and you will be blessed with even greater talents/abilities. My mother taught me to always be grateful and remember that all talents/abilities come from Heavenly Father and that everyone has something to offer. The Nelsons have taught me that comparison can be hurtful and dangerous. This ties in to being grateful for what I have and also being grateful for the talents OTHERS possess. I have hoped and acted upon the belief that sharing my talents unshackle others. It's frustrated to think I'm wrong about that.
It's bothersome when sharing my talents flares fear in others, that they choose not to share and grow with me, but to crawl under a bushel and stay there until they rust.
"STOP COMPARING!" I want to scream, "There is no comparison. Talents are talents. They are all good, they are all worthwhile and they are all needed!"
*Deep breath*
Okay; because I cannot control how others compliment me - if and when they do - I will concentrate on how I can best respond. Also from this experience, I will be more careful in HOW I compliment others. I will not cut myself down while building up another. As if I was going to offer a compliment to Bryce Canyon, or Niagara Falls or a sunset. I would not compare myself to the wonder and majesty of that great arrangement of rock and sand, water and stone, cloud and light. So, too, will I not compare myself to the talents of others.
In this way the compliment will be true, sincere, honest and will not be about me. It will be a way to offer love. I must also remember that some people do not accept compliments well. I was taught that if given a compliment, no matter how YOU thought you did, or what flaws YOU see with what you have accomplished, the correct and polite response is "Thank you," possibly followed by "I'm glad you enjoyed it," or "Thank you for coming." Because a sincere compliment is an expression of gratitude, and must not be disregarded rudely. Had they handed you a rose, would you throw it to the ground and step on it? I should hope not.
I like what Trailblazer said a few years ago: "I never turn down praise." Amen, father-in-law. That bit of wisdom also implies that I should be grateful the Backhanders and Self-Depricaters spoke up, no matter that the form is hurtful to one or both of us.
I'll just take a deep breath and say, "Thank you for the compliment." And move on.


WildBound said...

Well said! I would love to hear this in church...something definately applicable to life...

Fedaykin said...

Yes! That is part of what I plan on speaking about if the Bishop ever has the guts to let me near the pulpit. As for the backhanded "complimenters,"

"I understand that you don't like yourself and you are afraid of being diminished when you compare yourself to others. I understand that that fear and insecurity lead you to look for faults in others to help you feel like you have self-worth. I understand that you'd say something hurtful and passive-aggressive like that because you don't like who you are. But I love you anyway."

Comparison truly is the cancer to happiness. Where there's smoke, there's fire no matter how invisible. That sort of a comment betrays an underlying paradigm of comparison and false ego coverings of fig leaves; a world view that requires losers in order for there to be winners. The self-deprecaters are stuck in the exact same satanic matrix of false beliefs, they've just decided not even to try in the rat-race to climb to the top of the hill. This concludes my essay.

CowboyBob said...

"Stop comparing..." Yes, comparison comes, I suspect, from habits of competition and there is no competition to get to heaven. Without being self-deprecating, I will acknowledge my mouth rarely says what my heart says, so I function best with your conclusion: Thank you.

Desertbound said...

I love you, Sayy. Thank you for expressing yourself so eloquently and poignantly. You are beautiful.