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I Swear The Compliment Book Helps

Thursday, June 17, 2010

So I WAS going to have this for a title:

“The Swear Jar, The Compliment Book, and The Help”

These were really three separate, non-sequitor topics. But then I stopped for a sec to see if I could come up with a more creative title that connects them, cuz I like playing with words.

And then, ooo, I love it when this happens. While I was thinking about words for the title, I realized these three topics were all related to words!

Hence the title...I Swear The Compliment Book Helps.

I've been paying a lot of attention to words lately. First someone mentioned a Swear Jar. Everytime you swear you put a quarter in the jar. For me? That would be nothing but a fast-track savings plan. :)

But the Swear Jar, combined with some other serendipitous things, got me hyper-focused on words for the past few weeks. I do that; I get focused on something and my head stays there for awhile playing around with whatever's hanging out. I like it when that happens, when my mind toys around tying things together.

Here's a few ways the power of words has been showing up in my life lately...

The power of words likely pulled my son and I apart. And now the power of words is putting us back together...including through a game he and his girlfriend got me hooked on called...

Words With Friends.

It's an iPhone Scrabble game. If you're playing, look me up – GadgetGirl) You can't IMAGINE all the words you can make out of a few consonants and vowels. Words I didn't even know existed...

The rhythm of poetry is back in my head, too; a friend of mine and I have started to share what we write as I wrote in the comments of my last blog when I posted that poem...

This Saturday, becaue this is just enough fooling around about this...another friend and I are getting together for our first book-writing session. By the end of 2011, I'm just sayin'...

...and in the background of it all, in my spare time, running by the river in Colorado where I just was for a week, or driving in my car, I was listening to an Audible book called The Help. I'm done with it now, but it's not done with me. The voices of the readers, the sound of their words, the stories of the people, have stayed in my head, in my ears, in my heart, even though the book has said The End.

The book is set in the 60s in Jackson, Mississippi, and it's all about the black women, The Help, telling their stories...sharing their words. It was all they had, those women...much like the civil rights leaders of that time...Martin Luther King in particular. That's what he had, his words, and he used them to move a nation with his dream.

I have a dream, too. I want to write a book; I want to make a difference with my words, with my stories. I want to inspire other people to use their words to tell their stories, too. Our stories are important; our words make a difference for better or for worse.

All of this mixed up in my brain, and then here's what else happened in Colorado...My friend launched her company, ChoosePeople.com, and had a gathering of friends to celebrate. She asked everyone to bring a quote for her Girlfriend Board, a board she was going to look at to lift her up when her spirits were low. (Imma get me one of these, right?!)

At the gathering, most of the people got henna (not me), then everyone learned an Indian dance. After we ate and danced, everyone gathered around to share those quotes my friend had asked for. Of course, being Great Girlfriends, they showed up in Spades...or is it Hearts! There were stories, quotes, tears, laughter, memories. I hope we gave her enough wind beneath her wings so she can soar for a long time.

That night, and the next day, I was thinking hard about what a gift those shared words were. They weren't expensive; but they were priceless. And writing them down for later, when they're needed, could change someone's whole direction don't you think?

And that's when it hit me...I'm going to do this for my husband. The Compliment Book.

My husband and I have been trying so hard to make things work together at work and at home. It's hard to be together as much as we are, when we're so very different. We start taking each other for granted, and when we're tired, or stressed, we take it out on each other, always with our words. We've had so many conversations about how if we're just kind, respectful, caring, it doesn't take long for everything to turn around. We don't want to break up and go our separate ways; we've been together for 20 years. There's something solid under there to withstand all this pressure when everyone else wonders how we can.

So I decided I would be the one to change our direction, change the tone. Change our words to each other, those powerful words that mean so much and can hurt so bad. First, I sent him a postcard from Colorado, and then I bought him The Compliment Book.

You see, my husband feels loved when I tell him how much I like what he does. This system works great at home. When I'm gone, he works like crazy to do projects he knows are going to make a difference in my life when I get home because he knows I'm going to tell him over and over how much I appreciate it. It's such a sweet part of him; I wouldn't have him any other way.

But it doesn't serve him so well at work because he works with me. At work, I'm a logical, task-oriented person who believes examining mistakes, processes, systems and situations is vital to find lasting, worthwhile improvements. The tool I've been working on for over a year came from my penchant for getting things right. That's a great trait for a programmer, an analyst, a strategist. It makes for a bad manager, and an awful trainer.

The problem for us is that we're not autonomous at work. My husband is in a situation where the person who's training him and watching over what he does isn't giving him the kind of feedback and reassurance he needs, especially in this fragile learning situation in which he finds himself.

And I have to manage and train when I'd rather stab my eyes out. I don't want to check up on what someone's done. And I don't want to pay attention to whether someone's taking analysis of a situation the wrong way. I don't want to be forced to say “You did a good job, but” Too much like my childhood, full of parents who only said “I Love You” when it was followed by “But...I Hate The Things You Do”.

To me, that's just a layer of frosting on a sh*t cake. It's not real recognition. It's just pussyfooting around wasting time before getting to the point (just sayin'). Anyway, it's not for me. If I'm talking to him about how to do something, that's what I'm focused on.

Enter, The Compliment Book. I bought a Moleskin and Barnes & Noble while I was in Colorado, and now every day, before I go to sleep at night, I give him a compliment about something he's done or something I admire. It has to be specific and meaningful. It has to be something he's made a choice to do or behave like. You're cute, or you have a nice.... doesn't count.

After I tell him the compliment, I write it down, usually adding a little something extra. Then, I give him the book and he reads it. He can read the book anytime he wants, when he needs a little boost. I can, too, when I need to remember how special he is.

And you should see the gift I get for paying attention to how I use my words. My sweetie melts like a little boy; big smile, sweet face. I walked back into a pressure cooker after being off for a week, a situation that would have normally been explosive. Instead, in the week or so since I started this, we've gone from snarky comments multiple times a day to one snarky comment the entire week, for which he profusely apologized. And it's not just him who's changed. I Swear The Compliment Book Helps both of us. You can't help but think better of someone and choose more powerful positive words when you're looking for the opportunity.

And now, if you're of a mind to comment here, you know what I'D love to hear from you? What compliment has someone given you that's meant the world to you? If you tell me the story of it, I bet you get the gift of a sweet memory; those words coming back up fresh in your mind. And I get the gift of smiling over how that compliment helped you.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Love the compliment book idea! My husband is better about complimenting me than I am about complimenting him. I think I'm going to try writing little surprise compliments in the little notebook he carries at work.
    2736 days ago
    I await the book.

    Come play -- we do Spark haikus. Getcher motor runnin' in the mornings -- 5-7-5 syllables:

    CJ is writing
    a book so we can all hold
    it in our hands and

    Every time we read
    it, we can think of her and
    hold it and hug her
    2737 days ago
    I really like this idea and the whole concept. I am going to start a few "jars" of my own. I love how you write and can't wait for a book.

    There is nothing more powerful then words, it can make or break a day.

    emoticon Blog!
    2741 days ago
    What a terrific idea, the compliment book - both for the people we love, and for ourselves, so that we can remind ourselves why WE love us.
    2749 days ago
    A book! I have no doubt that you will get it done. And it will be what you want and expect it to be. And I hope we are still pals and I get to read it. A signed copy.

    The situation you describe with DH while full of love and affection, is also such a challenge. I am a manager in my career. My DH will not tolerate my management in our relationship. I just had to give up trying. Though sometimes it makes me a little crazy, did I say a little? I listen to your work on this with amazement. Let me offer you both a complement here. I honor your effort and your successes.

    Two complements mean a lot to me and make me smile. A member of my board once stated at a meeting, right in front of the other members and the staff and without any provocation evident to me that my legacy to our community is all the conservation land I have preserved. My "legacy". What?
    Maybe that will always make me smile.

    And the other comes from my (unmanageable) DH. He has said it a few times since I got active in Spark. He tells me I am in better shape than I was when we met 22 years ago. He does not mean pretty, or cute butt or other such things. He means that I can now walk pain free, that my endurance is way up and that I worked to earn it.

    Thanks for making me slow down to remember this.

    2761 days ago
    "Well your a$$ is not any wider than it was before you left. That's good!"

    [What hubby said when I returned from a business trip to Boca Raton last week]

    #1...he meant well...#2 at least he was lookin' at MY a$$...#3 I can't think of a number 3...LOL!
    2765 days ago
  • KELPIE57
    YOu know, for those of us with self esteem issues, it could even be used to compliment ourselves! The book will be wonderful when it comes out.
    2766 days ago
  • SLIMMER150
    Good ideas. Remember the movie... I think something like.. hmm something ".......... September". Where a woman with only a short time to live who picks up a man.. who needs help...and chooses that one person to love and help teach to give/love/care etc etc etc ..but only together for 30 days then he has to leave. They have a book they write in each night, where if they need to say something they can't say outloud they put it there.. so not used only for compliments but big problems... little corrections... ideas etc. The movie has been remade.. I think the first was in black and white. Very touching film...
    2767 days ago
    emoticon blog! You and my wife have writing and playing with words in common. "I Swear The Compliment Book Helps" is a great idea. Couples need to spend some quality time with each other every day (alone). My wife and I started the "Love Dare" book and we allowed life to get into the way. Hopefully we will get back to it. It is amazing to me how fast time flies by spending the quality time together.

    I hope and pray that your compliment book *SPARKS* up your marriage and makes it even stronger.

    Have a great day,
    2768 days ago
    Hmm. I just read everyone else's compliments and frankly can't think of many that I've ever thought were really sincere or true. (You're so right that "you're cute or pretty" doesn't count!) Compliments always seem to me to be requests for me to do more--what does this person want, I ask. Even as I need and desire acknowledgement for what I do, I never believe I can do enough or that what is being complimented is really valuable enough to warrant the effusiveness. Still, I thrive on compliments--they motivate me even as I think they aren't totally deserved. I think my cynicism and insecurity started way back deep into my early childhood where I got praised for things that came easy (reading, writing, music) or were natural (my hair, my looks) to me by teachers and parents--never for the things that I tried hard on but wasn't great at or that I really valued. This tended to make me lazy about tackling the hard things.

    The major exception to this are the compliments from my eldest son. The boy (man) says what's in his heart and I trust his words of praise for my cooking, my garden, my work, my looks as I do for almost no one else. When he says, "there's nothing like mom's apple pie," I know it's great!

    There's more, I think, to say about this, but I'll have to think on it. Perhaps the very most memorable compliment I ever received was on my 30th birthday from my mother. I had read that the Chinese remember their mothers on their own birthdays because their mothers had been in pain on the day they are born. I sent my mom flowers on my birthday with a note that said, "Thanks for 30 years." She wrote me a note starting with, "Aren't you the one!?" I had sent the flowers to her office (I lived 800 miles away) knowing that she would love to have that to share with her co-workers---she loved her family more than anything and her only sin of pride was in telling her buddies about us once in a while. I sincerely loved my mom who was the kindest most generous person I've ever known. I really did want to thank her for being my mom and was so pleased that I had hit the mark just right--giving her pleasure and something to show off for her hard work at mothering. It's fun hitting just the right note with a surprise and her grateful, graceful note was sincere acknowledgement and a compliment I will never forget because I was as pleased with myself as she was and it was all real and true and sincere--not contrived, but inspired.

    2769 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/19/2010 8:54:37 AM
    You're simply amazing and I look forward to a signed copy of your book in about 2011!! It's a wonderful blog and it's really inspiring to read the comments people respond with!!
    I love the idea of a compliment book. I just sent a cute postcard to my darling a few days ago and can't wait until he receives it at work. It will surely move him to tears(?), since I poured my emotions into it in a loving and wonderful way and it's kind of soppy, but the words are full of what I feel for him. And it made ME feel good to write it.

    2769 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/18/2010 7:20:28 PM
  • MTER67
    I love the idea of a compliment book. That's awesome, CJ. I'm glad it's working for both the giver and the receiver! :-)
    2769 days ago
    What an interesting concept. I must say my spouse the mouse provides an embarrassment of riches for me when it comes to complements. I probably should do more of the same.
    2769 days ago
    Lovely blog. My dh and I need to work on words too. Maybe instead of a swear jar, we'll have a jar that we put money in whenever we say something thoughtless to each other. And a compliment books sounds like it could work - Relecting on what to write in it for a while before writing should take away the possibility of it feeling forced. I'm going try this!

    Compliments: Yesterday, I was as a social event to introduce the new staff of the school where I am going to start teaching music in the fall. I already know two staff members there and one of them who knows me from a choir that I accompany gave me a hug as he introduced me to someone and said "This is M---. She is the best piano player you will ever find anywhere. Period. Anywhere.". I think I blushed and then glowed.
    And another compliment is from high school. I was in grade 13 math class and the teacher was asking us to rotate, manipulate or invert various lines around axes (is that the plural of axis?) and describe the resulting shape. I was the only one answering. The teacher became frustrated with the dead silence of the rest of the class and said "What's the matter with you boys? Don't you know that girls aren't supposed to be as good at visualizing things spatially as boys? Why are you letting this girl do all the answering?" That may not have been a compliment, but I sure took it as one! And I have always remembered it with pride.
    2770 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/18/2010 9:37:15 AM
    Wow, amazing blog. Really made me think. My hubby definitely feels under-appreciated sometimes and this is a great way to let him know he's not. Thank you!

    As for the compliment I got that meant so much...
    It's actually one compliment that I've received several times, but each time, it means so much. It's when people compliment Little Man or tell me that I'm doing an amazing job raising him.

    I'm such a perfectionist sometimes, and I always ALWAYS wanted to be a stay-at-home mom so I could focus on raising my little one right. But things don't always work out how we want, so I work part-time in the afternoons. Which means everything i would normally do during naptime now has to be squeezed into the time I have with him. And on and on...

    So sometimes I get so concerned that I'm not spending enough time with him, or he's missing out on learning important things, or he's going to resent me.

    But then comes the compliment, be it from my Dad, or Hubby, or especially total strangers (since they're unbiased, lol!). I've even gotten it from Little Man once or twice (that brings tears to my eyes)

    And it gives me some peace. I'm doing the best I can, and it seems to be working!
    2770 days ago
    Love it!
    2770 days ago
    First off, you really need to join us doing SP haikus. We don't follow the standard format of just writing poetry about nature. It's more the news of the day. I learned, for example, that colonoscopy has 5 syllables (I'm just sayin').

    Anyway, enough of that.

    A compliment.

    I recall I was a freshman in college. It was Boston University, huge school, and I was taking Biology for my major (which I eventually changed to Philosophy), and I was doing poorly in Chemistry and feeling dumb and awful. I mean, I had been 65th in my HS graduating class. So many people were so much better equipped to face the world, or so it seemed.

    And my suitemate, Colleen said one day, "Janet, you're the smartest person I know."

    "Huh? What? Who, me? You must not know a lot of people, Colleen."

    "Nope. You are."

    "Really? Uh, really? How you think?"

    "It's because, well, some things come incredibly easy to you. Things I just don't know. And others, if you don't know them, you try."

    Keep in mind this gal was second in her HS graduating class.

    So I spent some time trying to live up to her belief in me. It was odd and good, this feeling that someone believed in me. It has taken, though, these thirty or so years for me to really get it and believe in myself.

    And yanno something? I believe in YOU, too, CJ, ya sweet and silly and lovely and amazing writer woman. Writing is a tricky biz. I find I do a LOT of it for work but when it's time to write fiction it's a different ball of wax. But the busier I am, the more time I have to write, as I escape into the scenarios I've built and the people I've created.

    May you have many such wonderful escapes and conquests.
    2770 days ago
    I was out of the office for the few days on vacation. When I got back yesterday a coworker friend told me that she enjoys being at work so much more when I'm there. It made me feel so good that she felt that way--and that she made a special point of telling me. I'm glad this is working so well for you. I'm going to give it a more focused try with those around me at work and home!
    2770 days ago
    Definitely some food for thought here! I love playing with words here, & I really, really appreciate the title of this blog, especially after you explained it. :)

    The compliment book is an amazing idea! I don't have one person in mind for whom to do it up - I live alone, & there're plethora of people I could write out compliments for, but I could just add one or two to my diary entries for different people.

    As for THE one compliment that has meant the world to me, there's one that stands out more than any other, & I've received some really wonderful & special ones in my life.

    I'm a woman who's always had faith in God & who's been a Christian who made the commitment to be so at the age of 5. Faith has always been very important to me, & I've always tried to be able to express it in many different ways.

    In grade 11, I was in the grade 12 creative writing class, & there was a wide mix of people in it, from IB (international baccalaureate) students to average students, from above average students in general studies to those of a more creative mindset. Overall, we had a great year & got along well. Our teacher encouraged intelligent, considerate discussion on all sorts of topics, which greatly helped our writing.

    Interestingly enough, I'd ended up sitting with some of the grade 12 IB students, one or two of whom were blatant agnostics. One had a definite leaning towards atheism, but he wasn't totally decided at that point. I have no idea where he is now in his spiritual journey, or lack of it. We'd gotten into some interesting discussions in our classroom, & I was always staunchly standing up for faith, not just mine, but faith in general, & I was always careful to say things in a way that wouldn't insult anyone's intelligence & wouldn't belittle those who disagreed with me or anyone else with any kind of belief.

    In my annual (yearbook) that year, Martin wrote, "From a heathen to a Christian, It was good to hear the voice of someone who knew what they believed & why for a change. Don't ever compromise your faith. I won't. Wish I had something else to say."

    That has stuck with me & kept me from having some moments that've been lower than many I've already had, & it's reminded me of what's truly important to me. Not just my walk with God, but of other things in life that've been of utmost importance to me, strangely enough. My family & friends, amongst other things.

    Thanks for requesting this from us! It's been great to travel back to the 1986/1987 school year & remember that really cool time! :)
    2770 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/17/2010 11:39:00 PM
    Ah so many things here. I want to read "The Help", I've heard good things about it from my sister. I love your idea of the Compliment Book. I think this would be a lovely exercise for any couple to keep focused on the positives of their relationship.

    As for compliments I've received, I have to share something that happened very recently. A good friend of mine has been home with her small children the last couple of years, working freelance part-time. She recently received an offer for a full-time job. In talking about it, she said "I wish we lived closer, because I would hire you in a hot minute to watch the girls."

    I love children but have none of my own. I love her little girls. I was so flattered and so, so honored by what she said. And frankly, I'm floundering a bit in my own career. I need to make a change, but I don't know what direction to go in. But here is someone who would trust me with her precious children. So just feeling wanted and respected and "hire-able" was a wonderful feeling and good for my self-confidence.

    You mentioned sweet memories, here is another one and probably the other best compliment I've received. It's a bit of a story, so bear with me, please. I am a fan of musician Livingston Taylor. He is James Taylor's brother. Some years ago he recorded a song as a duet with James and when he would perform it live he would invite someone from the audience to come up on stage and sing James' part. At one concert, a small gathering, I got up to sing with Livingston and it was well received. But here is the best part, the compliment - there is another song on the same CD that he recorded as a duet with a female singer. A bit further into the concert, Liv asked me from the stage if I wanted to do that song as well! I still smile when I think about it. I was so thrilled, I can't even tell you. :)

    Thanks for the memory.

    Oops! Sorry I wrote a blog on your blog!
    2770 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/17/2010 10:57:03 PM
    A student I taught in the late 70's called me from Texas to tell me how I had made a difference in her life. She gave me (!) credit for her becoming a teacher! And she was nominated for Teacher of the Year for her school and was in the final five for her district. You cannot imagine how this made me feel. I was never nominated for TofY and I always felt I had not made much impression on my students. This woman made me feel incredible.
    2770 days ago
    I can't wait til your book comes out! And maybe I'll get a signed copy????

    I have learned to accept them much easier and with more grace than I ever used to. And your suggestion to share one of our own compliments has brought up a whole host of memorable ones. I've just spent time looking back over 'saved' goodies, and remembering real ones in the real world. I think one that has me by the heart strings is how much my parents were so impressed when I crossed the finish line of that half marathon. I don't remember the exact words, but I do remember the faces and hugs and just the whole *feeling* around it.

    Thanks for the memories!
    2770 days ago
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