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Gave a talk this week... "A Compliment"  RSS feed

 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1659
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I'm a teacher in a secondary boarding school and occasionally have to give a talk to the 50+ teenage boys who live in my Boarding house. This time I got particularly good reviews so I wanted to write it up. I fear it has lost some of the spark putting it down on paper. I spoke unscripted from bullet points at the time, so this is me piecing it together as best I can after the event.

A Compliment


Last year I was paid a compliment. Simple words, but they resonated with me deeply. You might say it struck a nerve and set me thinking. Those words totally overturned my view of myself and it has taken me close on size months to process in a coherent way and be ready to talk about it.

Before I begin, however, I have three questions for you to think about:

Who are you?
What do you like and respect about yourself?
What would be the greatest compliment someone could pay you?

*PAUSE*

These are deeply personal questions and it has taken me many months to work out what questions to ask myself, let alone make some kind of sense of them. I suspect that there will be as many different answers to these questions as there are people in this room.

*PAUSE*

Many, many years ago - when I was about your age - I read a book. One exchange in this story stuck with me, the simple message it carried could almost be the motto of how I choose to live my life. Two young men were discussing how to approach a pretty girl at a bus stop. The older one said “Giving a smile to a pretty girl is like getting an invitation to a posh restaurant. You might not be able to take it up, but the giving costs you nothing.”

At its simplest level this is just a way of, hopefully, picking up girls. I can’t speak for it’s effectiveness on that front.

At a deeper level it encapsulates a philosophy on how to live your life and how to interact with others. A simple smile, a friendly hello, making people you meet feel that bit better about themselves and their day. Quite simply “Just be nice.”

Last year, one of my colleagues was leaving school. An acquaintance rather than a close friend, but someone I saw fairly regularly, slightly on the fringes of the usually work social circles. On her last day she sought me out and said:
“Thank you. I especially wanted to find you today to say thank you for always making me feel welcome. You always have a smile and always managed to brighten my day.”

Simple words, but they knocked me for six and left me thinking. Why did these particular words, from this person, affect me so deeply? It took me a long time to digest but I finally decided that it was because she had pin pointed the parts of myself I value the most. She had neatly skewered my own “Who are you?” question and what she said was so close to who I strive to be. I want to be the person who brightens people's day. It matters to me that those around me feel good about themselves and I want to be the person who goes out of their way to smile and say hi. At that point I just hadn't properly recognised it in myself.

We have spoken before about working out who you are and being true to yourself, so at this point let’s just go back to those three questions.

Who are you?
What do you like and respect about yourself?
What would be the greatest compliment someone could pay you?

I suspect that you will find it is something quite deeply personal, and it may take years to work out. It may catch you unawares as it did me, and set your sense of identity and self on its head. If you really think about it, it probably won’t be praise from a teacher about an excellent prep, or a comment on your latest hair cut. It is more likely to be a quiet word in passing from a friend.

My challenge to you then, is to think about those three questions.

Then go out and earn that compliment.
 
allen lumley
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Michael Cox : Thank you for posting this wonderful piece ! John L. Sullivan is famously quoted for saying '' It doesn't cost anything to be a Gentleman "
sometimes we are quick to hurt, and slow to remember 'The Golden Rule ' Big AL
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Thanks Allen,

"It doesn't cost anything to be a gentleman" also fits the message nicely.

One of the things I have come to realise with young people over the past ten years is that they are happiest when they know who they are and live with that in mind. Trouble is you need time for peaceful reflection to get there, and it can take years to get there. I liken this to the "observation" phase of a permaculture design. Until you know what the person is like you can't make valid plans. Same hold when trying to help someone else as making choices for yourself.
 
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