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Lost art of compliment response

As all faithful readers of the Detroit Lakes Tribune had best be aware, a circumstance most tragic was broached by a fellow columnist this past week. My article could be seen as a spin-off, hopefully more successful than the Friends-to-Joey transition witnessed on your television screens. Let's call it The Lost Art of Compliment Response.

(Pssst, Kitzmann! Behold my brilliance: you and I could be dueling columnists! Have your people get in touch with my people. No rush, of course; I've got to find some people first...)

With cynicism as effortless to fall into as a very large puddle or an awkward discussion on politics or litter box etiquette, accepting a piece of praise turns easily into a suspicious business, indeed.

In severe cases, one may feel as though anybody venturing to commend or congratulate is seeking some selfish ambition. Paranoia may result. (What does he want from me? Is it money? The seat next to the air conditioner? My collection of porcelain clowns?... Sally never commented on my rhubarb pie prior to this occasion. What sort of underhanded manipulation is this?!)

Note to readers: If you find that you start to hyperventilate upon receiving a tribute to your nature, your doings, your dealings or your designer duds, please see somebody -- a specialist in Complimentary Therapy, if at all possible. (No, it does not exist, but I'm an idealist, and it should. Stating that, however, is as far as my aims at idealism carry; I'm a lackadaisical idealist, tethered to the computer screen by its alluring glow.)

Often when one is awarded an adulation, the impulse is to return the favor with a similar gesture of extolment. But, reader, I ask thee: is this obligatory return of appreciation ethical? Does a compliment given out of an imagined sense of necessity fulfill the selfless amiability a commendation should?

Perhaps the case of the reciprocal kudos trespasses into flattery, defined by my dear Webster as "excessive, untrue, or insincere praise; blandishment." Don't you dare blandish me, O Awarder of Reciprocal Compliments! (I must note the definition beneath flattery, as its brilliance deserves to be shared with the non-dictionary-reading-for-pleasure public: "flattish" is regarded to mean "somewhat flat." As in, North Dakota's landscaping is flattish in juxtaposition with that of Colorado. Why, elementary, of course!)

My friends and I, being of gracious and humble natures, have often struggled with the proper response to compliments. When we believe them unwarranted or exaggerated, we shun the complimenter in all his (guys love us) well-intentioned kindness.

As complimentees, we feel that in the name of modesty and truth, we must brush aside accolades. This is, however, incredibly rude.

Think about it: to remove oneself from one's own sphere of consciousness to attend to another's ego-inflating is a selfless act, not deserving of being punctured by a dart gun after being javelined off of the fifth level of a parking ramp and thrown into a teenage-mutant-ninja-turtle-infested sewer. Easy fix: don't do it.

It is, of course, just as awful to take a compliment and run with it. Yes, it was given voluntarily, meaning we can't label this thievery a misdemeanor, but it is definitely unattractive to recite one's attributes -- even a recitation gorgeous in its eloquence -- after being applauded. Think over-inflated balloon: that's what your ego is going to look like. Don't do it.

I realize I sound almost dictatorial, darling, and I certainly don't wish you to think me harsh or in any way domineering. This is all in your best interest. Trust me. I know.

My girls and I have dissected this subject, and the conclusion is outrageously simple. Really, you'll wish you'd thought of it.

Smile, genuinely. Say thank you.'re done! Anyone who can do this is entirely worthy of whatever message of admiration began this dilemma.

Cynicism and pride need not apply; compliments are about connections and compassion. Give them, take them, appreciate them.

Thressa Johnson will be a senior at Detroit Lakes High School this fall.