An Encouraging Word — Be generous with compliments

If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. I Corinthians 13: 26

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Don’t get me wrong, I get plenty of affirmation from the readers of this column, and I am certainly humbled by it, but every once in a while I have to laugh at what some people say and how they say it. It’s like they let out the fishing line and then at the very last minute give it a jerk. I am talking about the compliment that ends with some reservations. These days, I usually chuckle to myself.

Here are some recent funny examples:

“My friend gave me a copy of your recent book. I really like it.” It would have been great if it ended there, but he added, “I didn’t realize you were so smart!”
Another woman sent an e-mail that read, “I really like your column.” It would have been great if she had ended there, but she had to smear in it by adding, “I agree with you most of the time.”

I got a nice card from a former parishioner from out-of-state, to whom I send a copy of my columns every Christmas. His note would have been very nice if it had read, “We think of you often.” What it actually said was, “We think of you every once in a while.”

Father Andrew Greeley used to say priests are the worst at it — giving compliments and then chopping them off. He cites a typical example: “Oh yes, I hear that Father so-and-so is a very good preacher, but I hear that he isn’t very good around old people.”

When I confronted a priest for doing that, he replied that he “didn’t want Father to get a big head.” How thoughtful of him!

Henry Ward Beecher, famous Protestant preacher, summed up this practice best when he said, “The meanest, most contemptible kind of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but.”

If you are like most of us, most of the time, all you remember are the things that come after the “but.”

Jim Stoval said, “You need to be aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes and encourage them in their pursuits. When we all help one another, everybody wins.”

Henry Ward Beecher put it another way: “Let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds iron, so it will find in every hour, some heavenly blessing.”

St. Cyprian said this to priests, but it could be applied to family members, fellow parishioners or fellow workers: “Why should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happenings of its brothers wherever they are?”

Maybe the best New Year’s resolution would be to look for times and places to offer one another clear, generous and unconditional compliments.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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