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Lynn Hummel column: Danny: People tell me that I'm good

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

Danny was our paperboy. Once a month his job was to call on all his customers to collect for the papers. These days the paper collects through automatic monthly bank installments — much better for paper boys (and girls) and much better for customers.

Several days before the monthly collection day, we had been to a junior and senior high band concert and saw Danny playing drums in the junior high band. So I asked him about it. I said: "Danny, we saw you playing drums in the junior high band at the concert the other night. How do you like playing your drums?"

"Well," Danny said, straightening up, "people tell me that I'm good."

Strange way to answer my question, I thought, but upon reflection, not so strange at all. Danny had obviously received some compliments on his playing and he was lifted. He enjoyed the compliments and his answer told me he loved playing the drums. Danny is old enough now to have a Danny Jr., and I hope he's getting compliments too. You can bet Danny still remembers those old compliments. People remember kind words, sometimes from childhood to old age.

What could be easier or give more pleasure than an honest, sincere compliment?

Leo Buscaglia is known as a hugger. He hugs everyone he meets. Here's what he says about kind words and compliments: "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

Those compliments can be especially helpful with kids and all their doubts. But just as remarkable as a compliment can be, so an insult or a put-down can stick forever in the mind of a thin-skinned kid, and aren't all kids thin-skinned?

Politicians have thick skin, right? Probably, but even Abraham Lincoln admitted that everybody likes a compliment. But let's not talk about political compliments, insults and smears.

Look — everybody deserves a pat on the back once in a while. Take a rush-hour waitress for example. All her customers are hungry at the same time, the kitchen is busy, the pace is frantic and it's easy for delays and mistakes to happen. A simple "you're doing a good job — keep doing what you're doing" can go a long way toward converting a miserable hour to a temporary pleasure.

But flattery, insincere compliments intended to gain an advantage are phony — worse than insults. Remember the punch line in "Good Night Irene" — "a false hearted lover is worse than a thief." So are exaggerated compliments like "You're the smartest person in the world. Someday I'd like to eat your brain." Flattery so thick it can't be true is baloney — and the taste isn't sweet, it's bitter. So if you get a compliment too good to be true, don't let it go to your head.

Mark Twain, probably America's greatest humorist, got many compliments. As he said, "I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; but I always feel they have not said enough."

I too receive "compliments" as a result of writing this column. One goes like this "my wife likes your column." Another is "I started reading your column last week, but I didn't finish — how did it turn out?" And finally, a very positive benefit to readers "I enjoy your column very much — they help me drop off to sleep at night."