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Protective Impulse and the (not so) simple compliment

The other day when complimenting a friend on her new jacket, I asked my-self why did I do it, did I really like the jacket? The honest answer was no, I didn’t care for it.  So why saying that I did. It is true that  I love my friend and wanted her to feel good about herself, but the more embarrassing truth is that I felt bad for her because she was wearing, what I perceived,  a ridiculous jacket.  A slightly different example is when we notice that a friend has gained some weight. Here it is not that we feel bad for her, but we feel guilty for noticing and compensate for it by complimenting her on how good she looks.I might have thought that this could only happen to me, had I not read The Amateur Marriage. This slightly patronizing attitude combined with kindness was captured brilliantly by Ann Tyler.  In seeing a sick friend wearing a conspicuous hat, the protagonist says something kind about it.  Tyler emphasizes the importance of this human gesture, by giving it a name: “protective impulse”.Ever since I read the novel I have started paying attention to these gestures in my life. I notice that in women the protective impulse is stronger than in men.  It seems to me that it usually happens, when we see something different which attracts our attention like the jacket, the extra pounds, the hat. Then we feel the need to comment on it. And since we absolutely don’t want to say something negative or rude, we replace it with kindness.Now,  whenever I get a compliment from a friend I often wonder whether it was said out of protective impulse. But so what, even if it was, I find that it is better to walk tall counting on, what the author  Barbara Pym would call, “the sympathy of other women “  to say something kind to me than to learn the real truth about the way I look.     

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What an interesting thought.

What an interesting thought.  I find it deeply annoying when I look ill or awful, and people say I look well.  It makes me think they are just not paying attention.

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Thank you for reading my

Thank you for reading my posts and for your thoughtful comments. I admire the ease and the flow of your writing.

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I have never thought about it

I have never thought about it before, but that's very true.  I do that often and I can see both sides.  Yes, I want to be honest and I want people to be honest with me. However, I do want people, even strangers, to feel good and be wrapped in positive thoughts, to protect them, I suppose, and there are times I desperately look for it from others.  How fascinating!  Now I will be considering what I say and what I hear!  Thank you! :)

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Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for writing. I feel that sometimes honesty gives people a license to be unkind. I too like to be "wrapped in positive thoughts" as you so nicely put it:-)