Walking a dog is beneficial in so many ways, the most obvious of which is the exercise value and fresh air. I have also found that my “special time” with Stella, our 13-year-old beagle mix, seems to invite the most interesting interactions with humans.
I recently saw the soft side of one of my neighbors when I learned that she took in a rescue dog who clearly “needed some training”, which became clear as the dog – still nameless – put his huge paws on her chest and licked her face.
Dogs tend to draw people together as they sniff one another or growl or yank on the leash to get a closer look. Even people who normally keep to themselves are forced into interactions they may or may not welcome.
My most recent “dogs bringing people together” moment got me thinking about compliments and how we react to getting them. There is a new puppy in our subdivision, an adorable little labradoodle with oversized paws and clumsy movements. Only a new puppy (or a newborn baby of any sort) is that cute!
I chatted with his 10-year old owner about upcoming shots and plans for dog training. “He hasn’t had his shots yet, so we can’t come closer,” he said while keeping a safe 15 feet from us. As we resumed our walk, I turned to say goodbye and added, “Cute dog!”
While an adult would normally throw back an automatic “Thanks!”, he yelled after us, “Your dog’s nice too!” I laughed (to myself, of course!), thinking it was such an innocent attempt to return a compliment. I think it is natural to want to give back when we receive something from someone.
I found myself thinking about how adults overthink so much. In this case, an adult would be thinking, “Her dog is cute, but if I compliment it now, it will seem like I am insincere” or ” Her dog is not very special, so I shouldn’t pretend that I think it is.”
None of that was important in our interaction. The words were unnecessary for the real message, although they did lift my spirits. What really mattered was the feeling of gratitude and reciprocal exchange of a gift (a compliment). That feeling of giving was what I took with me as I continued my walk. It did not matter to me a bit whether or not he really thought my old dog was special. I felt the higher value – and the sincerity – of what he was really trying to give me.
This would have sounded, and felt, different coming from an adult. The raw meaning of the deeper message would have been lost between the time the first compliment was given and the response returned. Thoughts about the “right” thing to say would have interrupted such a spontaneous unaffected expression of the deeper message – “Your compliment lifted my spirits, and I want to do that for you too.”
With the experience of my years, it is not that I want to give insincere compliments – or, worse yet, receive them – but I did have a renewed sense of how a compliment can boost mood and give encouragement to others, so much so that it feels like a debt of gratitude.
It is a good thing that we learn the subtleties of appropriate complements. I will not be starting a new practice of returning compliments meaninglessly just to create reciprocity. Another subtlety adults learn is that we can carry forward a good feeling and “pay it forward”, in this case perhaps as a genuine compliment to another person at another time.
Sincerity is important. Feeling that we are generous is also important. We all have many opportunities daily to give someone a boost in the simplest way possible – with a simple compliment. What goes around comes around.