To be fair, I saw many ridiculous things there, but right next to my own propensity to flush a lifetime of wealth down the drain for a degree I’d never use, the spectacle of two particular students caught my attention one day. They held a sign between them advertising “Free Compliments,” and they quickly became known as The Compliment Guys on campus, as they sat there and offered flattering remarks to their fellow passing students.
Now I personally rank Encouragement as one of the core values of my life, but as far as I was concerned, these two fellas downright butchered the practice. For all their grinning remarks of positivity, they were neutering the very animal they were attempting to employ.
You see, a compliment generated for the sake of its own existence is meaningless.
Compliments are but one ingredient in the recipe for encouragement, and to watch these two guys throw them around willy-nilly was like watching a chef serve out a soup that consisted entirely of warm water. I won’t contend the fact that those two jokers put a smile on the face of many a passer-by, but I’m suspicious of how many of those smiles were the product of mere spectacle.
True appreciation can only be expressed where there is first something to inspire its recognition. If there's no subject to address, then it is less a compliment and more a call for attention. There's a difference between "You dressed very well today," and "Nice hat." The first acknowledges an accomplishment of the individual, whereas the second acknowledges her hat.
But if encouragement had been what The Compliment Guys guys had truly been after, they would have needed more. They would have needed first of all to actually connect with their intended audience, and then have shared the recognition of at least one challenge that their audience faced. This is because true encouragement is directional- it seeks to move, and move towards improvement. Granted, the pool of affected souls would have been significantly smaller, but the final effect of their efforts would have been drastically increased.
The ultimate goal of encouragement is to foster improvement, and it does so by inspiring movement.
“You can do it!”
“I believe in you!”
“Get off your fat ass!”
Encouragement doesn’t always sound like rainbows and unicorns. Remember, the goal is movement towards improvement. If the encouragement you offer to someone does nothing more than appease their contentment, then what you are offering is not encouragement.
On any level, encouragement includes at least a recognition of challenge, if not the generation thereof. It might be hard to frame the image of a screaming drill instructor as an encouraging individual, but apart from direct sabotage, apathy is the greatest discouragement. The drill instructor might scare the living piss out of his recruit, but he both knows his recruit and cares enough about the recruit’s performance to make sure that the recruit will either graduate ready for battle or if he proves himself unable, be relieved from the burden of fighting beside his fellow soldiers. Or hers, as the case may be.
Because how do we get better? By overcoming obstacles and challenges. Those who are not challenged, do not grow. So as harsh or unpleasant as it might be to witness or endure, a challenge is quite arguably more important than the compliments that might be paid after or along the way. Sure, if you were to stand apart from The Compliment Guys and heckle the students to dress better or improve their posture, they might not like you, but they would at least be challenged to either address the fault you observed or grow some callouses and not be so emotionally delicate.
Granted, they might also tip you upside-down into a trashcan, but even this would require a greater human connection than empty platitudes could offer.
So as you move forward in life, don’t be a pansy. Get out there and move through your insecurities. I don’t care if they’re cursing your mother, calling you fat, or throwing rotten tomatoes at you. Get over yourself, fix what needs fixing, and do your damned job.
If life were supposed to be easy, coffee cups wouldn’t need warning labels.
And since challenges are so much more valuable than compliments, I will invite you to get off of your fat ass and actually go do something constructive with your life. You ugly, smelly, lazy, bird-brained excuse for human tissue.