This morning in the locker room, I complemented a young man on his shoes. They were a nice looking pair of grey deck shoes. He said, “Oh thanks. They’re Polo’s but they were only $35 at Macy’s.” As he waved good-bye and walked away, I wondered why did he tell me they were only $35?
It’s not the first time I’ve contemplated this type of reaction because I think I do it all the time. My wife will say, “That shirt really looks nice on you,” and I’ll respond, “I’ve had this shirt a long time, got it off the sale rack.” My golf buddies will complement me on a nice drive and I’ll generally say something like, “Yeah, I was due to get lucky sooner or later!” When I informed my sisters that Jan and I had booked a cruise, I hastily explained that we had free rewards flights to New Orleans, and listed all the financial discounts that made the cruise “a really good deal!” Why do I do this? Do you ever catch yourself doing the same thing?
The “what” of this is fairly clear to me—we devalue the complement as if, in a self-depreciating way, we don’t really deserve it and deprive the one making the favorable observation from their opportunity to do or say something positive. The result is that neither of us benefits from the well-intended statement; I shrug it off by minimizing it (and myself), and the complementer is cheated from the positive feeling of paying a tribute to me. Now the huge difference between Jan and me is that, when I say, “You look really fit, I can tell you’ve been working out hard,” she’ll say “Thanks!” I wait for the disclaimer that doesn’t come. She simply says “Thanks”, or “I appreciate that!”
So now I’m left unable to answer the “why” of my behavior. Do I need to maintain an image of frugality and make sure everyone knows that really sharp shirt was on the sale rack? Do I feel I will be judged by being too extravagant and irresponsible with my funds? Do I/we just feel some vague sense of discomfort hearing something positive about ourselves, like, perhaps, we don’t warrant it? Is it a mindset incubated by depression-era parents who made me clean up every plate set before me, even when it was liver and onions? Probably.
I haven’t figured this out yet, but this week when I drill a 250 yard drive straight down the middle of the fairway, I’m going to smile a little and simply say “Thanks!” I’ll change the behavior first and keep trying to figure out the inclination. Help me out—what do you think?