On a recent radio talk back show a number of callers rang saying how much they appreciated the sometimes spontaneous complements paid to them, often by strangers. One lady said how her day was made by a woman next to her at the petrol station telling what a cheerful smile she had. Another was complemented on her professional phone manner by a customer. All the callers seemed surprised that people could make such a difference to their day simply by hearing pleasant things about themselves. They were equally surprised that people could receive such encouraging words from complete strangers, people who had nothing to gain from the encounter.

Something has happened in our society that has made us suspicious of kindness and courtesy. We have become attuned to looking for the “small print”, the “hidden costs” that may catch us out or leave us out of pocket. Why is it that our first thought is, “Why are they saying that and what is it going to cost me in the end?”

It is a sad day when we find it odd to offer or receive some words of appreciation from one another without being a little suspicious of the motives. It is even sadder to worry about offering a complement for fear that it may be misconstrued or dismissed. We have become a suspicious society these days assuming that any kind act has an ulterior motive, believing that nothing comes for free, even uplifting words of encouragement or appreciation. Perhaps we have forgotten how to receive things graciously or have lost the belief that we are sometimes worthy of praise.

Of course we have no control over how people perceive our words or actions, and we would be wise to be circumspect in a society that is not as purely intentioned as we would hope, but something as inexpensive and nobly aimed as an unsolicited complement, both given and received, might just be the tonic to brighten miserable day or cheer up a lonely Individual. We might all wish to be better able to bring healing to the afflicted and contentment to the broken hearted. Why not start with something to warm the spirit of a stranger?

Practice it in Church this weekend. It doesn’t need to be forced, unrealistic or excessive. It’s not up to you how your thoughtfulness will be received, but at the very least you might leave them wondering.

Fr. Peter Dillon