This I Believe

Sarah - New York, New York
Entered on May 30, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: children

I believe in The Compliment. In a world with pandemic suspicion and self-doubt, I am driven to look for the admirable and estimable in everyone that I see. Despite the fact that I am young, only 29 years old, I have had a full life. The daughter of a diplomat, I lived in seven countries by the time I was 18 (four of them considered third world). I’ve had two careers; lost people I loved, and found new ones to love. I am young, but I know a thing or two about the world. I am about to finish my first year as a public high school teacher in the Bronx. In the past ten months I was educated as much as I educated, and most of what I learned dismayed me. Evidently the best thing about the world is that you can know a thing or two about it, and still have a limitless amount to learn. No matter how many times the world throws me for a loop, this fact never fails: nothing motivates like an uncontrived compliment.

My students, for example, will make a complete turn-around in my classroom solely because I appreciate their effort. Telling a youngster that they did a good job, that their work was commendable, telling their parents that they are true gentlemen, or that they have charm, or humor, or intelligence brings out that behavior better than anything else I have seen. Students doing mediocre work in my class will make a supreme effort to improve their grades after I tell them that their work is exceptional. Now, don’t get me wrong, only a sincere compliment has any effect. Youngsters have a better eye for insincerity than anyone I know. You will lose their respect if you just try blowing sunshine in their faces.

Complimenting is a talent, one that I have cultivated, and one of which I am particularly proud. In order to give a true compliment it is important to be comfortable shifting focus away from yourself, to be empathetic, to be unconcerned about getting compliments of your own. It is harder than most people suspect.

I am far from beatific. I spend my share of time worrying about fitting in. I am guilty of trying to cultivate the right image and I make my share of mistakes. However, I am joined in imperfection by six billion other people. Living in this world teaches me that no one has a monopoly on pain or inequality, and it reinforces the fact that everyone, regardless of wealth, culture, race, or gender, wants to be respected and appreciated for their strengths.

I believe in The Compliment because it takes me out of myself and helps me to appreciate each person in my life. I believe in The Compliment because there is enough emphasis on The Terrible. I believe in The Compliment because compliments teach me to emulate what is good in the people who touch me. I am one woman, on a mission to remind the world that it is good.