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Religion

Give a compliment

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Rabbi Ari Kievman, Sandton Central Shul

What is the Jewish perspective on compliments? Should we be lavish with our praise or rather withhold flattery?

In the opening of our parsha, Noach is described with flowing praise, unlike almost any other biblical figure. We read “…Noach was a righteous man; he was perfect in his generations, Noach walked with G-d.”

What was so special about this deluge-dodging daredevil that earned him such effusive praise? 

Noach didn’t have it easy. He faced a corrupt populace who didn’t heed his beckonings for teshuva.

To stand strong in the face of such adversity required extraordinary strength. Try to put yourself in Noach’s sandals for a moment. How would you overcome the obstacles of trying to behave so radically different than the rest of society? From where did Noach derive the moral courage?  

One answer is that G-d’s praise of him is what inspired him to act on the compliments heaped upon him. That’s what gave him the fortitude to handle his circumstances. It was the very catalyst creating the ability for him to realise his own potential.

As described by the Pygmalion effect, oftentimes people behave according to others’ expectations of them. When complimented, we tend to gravitate towards the positive qualities that have been highlighted, even if it’s not always our default setting.  

So, G-d reminds Noach of the latent qualities he possesses. He is righteous, perfect, walks with G-d. “You are different than others,” he is reminded, and this gives him the courage to carry on despite the challenges. Those encouraging words created the great potential for a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

The truth is that we all have unlimited reservoirs of potential deep within us. The trick is to bring them to expression. When we uplift people around us by complimenting and praising their good, we inspire them to realise their true potential. In the words of Mark Twain “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” 

We are beneficiaries of so much good around us. Sadly, though, much of it is unacknowledged. Some people are experts at pointing out what’s wrong with their shul, school or a loved one, while taking for granted what’s right. Complimenting people is one of the most beautiful ways to spread happiness around you and will actually increase yours too.

Seize the opportunity now to praise your spouse, compliment your child, say a kind word to a friend or anyone.  

Wishing you a praiseworthy Shabbos!

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