27 April 2023

Kind words

I gave a sermon via Zoom last Sunday at Spokane Friends Meeting. Here's an e-mail letter I received from Spokane Friends member Lois Kieffaber:

SUBJECT: The reviews are in.

Actually, they were in by Sunday afternoon. The critics raved. We thought your message last Sunday was very good, and I would like to use it for the cover story of our May Newsletter.

There was actually a sweet reciprocity about this compliment, because the sermon was about grace, and I spoke about some of the ways I saw grace in action at Spokane Friends. The kind words just proved my point! But my focus at the moment was how that compliment made me feel.

Friends in the programmed tradition are expected to devote just as much spiritual attentiveness in preparing the planned elements of a meeting for worship as unprogrammed ("silent worship") Friends devote to waiting on the Holy Spirit to guide them in what to say or do in worship. But, no matter how much I try to pray my way through the preparation of a sermon, I'm rarely satisfied that I succeeded in communicating my heart adequately. So there is something immensely reassuring about kind words.

Two cautions about giving and receiving compliments that should be acknowledged but should not be controlling: 

First, let's be real about our motivations. Compliments should be given out of genuine appreciation; there should never be a manipulative or ingratiating intent. 

The second occasion for being real: learn to receive compliments with directness and appreciation and then getting on with life. There's no need to be self-deprecating or to minimize a sincere compliment, just as there is no need to develop an unhealthy dependence on getting praised. There will be times when you and I get no compliments precisely because we said or did the right thing at the right time.

Screenshot from Muscle Shoals.
Kind words can change lives. About two years ago, in the links section of my blog, I wrote about the Swampers' drummer Roger Hawkins, who had just died. I linked to the point in the film Muscle Shoals where Hawkins and his fellow musicians reminisced about the time Hawkins received this compliment from veteran producer Jerry Wexler:

Wexler: Roger.

Hawkins: Yes, sir.

Wexler: Roger, you're a great drummer.

Hawkins [to the interviewer]: And all of a sudden it just, I just kinda relaxed, and became a great drummer, just like he said I was.

I would like to think that I enjoy giving compliments as much as I enjoy receiving them, but I can't knowingly take credit for changing anyone's life with my kind words. However, I'd love it if we were all more alert to the opportunity to drop kind words into each others' lives. If there were any period in history where this would seem to be a priority, wouldn't now qualify? Insults, sarcasm, false witness sometimes seem like the dominating styles of public discourse. Let's do better.

According to an article on compliments on the Harvard Business Review Web site, experiments show that people like the idea of giving compliments in theory, but are shy about doing so in practice.

When it comes to deciding whether to express praise or appreciation to another person, doubt creeps in. We find that people are overly concerned about their ability to convey praise skillfully (“What if my delivery is awkward?”), and their anxiety leaves them overly pessimistic about the effects their messages will have. Sadly, people’s pessimism causes them to refrain from engaging in this behavior that would make everyone better off.

(By the way, my compliments to the authors, Erica Boothby, Xuan Zhao, and Vanessa Bohns, for this helpful article.)

Do compliments lose their power if we give them out more often? The HBR authors say,

You might worry that the positive impact of these kind words comes from their rarity, such that giving compliments too often will devalue one’s compliments or make them seem less sincere. Our research suggests this is simply not the case. Although people in one experiment expected that those who received one compliment a day over the course of a week would feel increasingly less positive each day and find the compliments increasingly less sincere, contrary to expectations the compliments actually brightened recipients’ mood similarly each day. The kind words did not become tired words. Just as people must eat regularly to satisfy their biological needs, the fundamental need to be seen, recognized, and appreciated by others, as it turns out, is a recurring need at work and in life.

Aside from being a wonderful speaker (much better at storytelling than I am, for example), Judy Maurer makes fabulous omelettes. Each time she makes one of her mushroom-cheese-spinach omelettes, she's sure it is going to be a disaster. It's funny how they all turn out to be wonderful. Of course I don't fail to say so; the fact that I compliment those omelettes every time doesn't make it less true....

Interstellar probe Voyager 2's impending retirement (owing to loss of power) has been postponed for three years by a clever hack. My compliments to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Some returning Russian soldiers are serving as coaches of patriotism in Russian schools, with varying results.

Emine Saner on the rise of voluntary celibacy. There's a brief reference to the influence of religion, but I'd love to have more consideration of that aspect.

Brian Drayton applies Thomas Shillitoe's advice to our consumption of mass communication.

Few things inspire Elder Chaplain author Greg Morgan more than stories of resilience....

One of my 70th birthday gifts was an evening at the Prince Edward Theatre here in London to see the very first Broadway-level show in my whole life, Ain't Too Proud. Built around the epic story of the Temptations, its music was (for me, as for so many of my contemporaries in the USA) the soundtrack of our youth. Many thanks to Luke from a misty-eyed father.

The video below, made while the Broadway show was still in previews, is a bit out of date, but it gives some sense of how enjoyable the evening was.


Patti Crane said...

Happy birthday, dear Johan!

Patti Crane

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Patti!!! Thank you.