Today we’ll talk about insincere compliments, thank-yous, attaboys and the like. They really piss me off.
What brought it up was the recent spate of Mother’s Day posts on several of the social media sites. So many of them, rather than simply wishing their mother or some other specific mother a good day or thank them for a job well done, elected to make comments such as “to all the wonderful mothers out there, you are the best!” Now I won’t go all grammar Nazi on you and question how all of them can be the best, but I will call out a bit of overzealousness in handing out these compliments.
Not all mothers are the best. Some are quite lousy. Wouldn’t you agree that it dilutes the intended compliment to one particular mother to lump her in with all mothers as “the best?” I mean, if you think your mother is the best, why not just tell her and leave it at that? Why pander to “all mothers”, including those who are not what many would consider to be at the top echelon of motherhood?
Motherhood is the most common job on the face of the earth. Every single person living has had a mother. There is no less exclusive club than that of mothers. Do you really want your mother to believe that she’s no different than all those others? Can’t we do a little better than that?
Next I’ll address an issue that will make some quite angry at me if they don’t read it in its entirety. We begin:
In 1973, we left Vietnam, thankfully, ending another in our long list of foolish wars for which Americans have died in vain. Sorry, but when we don’t accomplish our stated mission, then those deaths were for naught, and we should accept it. But that’s not my point.
Soon after our vets came home, it became evident that our hatred of the war had somehow redounded to those who had fought it, and there were many news articles about vets being treated badly for having participated in this war. This really made no sense, since many vets had been drafted and so, by definition, were fighting the war against their will. Blaming them for the war was simply idiotic.
Then I began seeing bumper stickers. They had various messages on them, but, in general, said something like “Thanks, Vets”. Really? The method we chose to redress the horrible treatment of veterans of the Vietnam War as to buy a $.69 bumper sticker and put it on our car? Does anyone else see in abject insincerity in that gesture? Does anyone else think that it would have been better to do nothing than tell vets that our method of repayment to them would be the purchase of a bumper sticker? And that the purchase of said sticker somehow absolved us of any further responsibility in the matter? Can’t we do a little better than that?
We see the same thing in the modern day regarding returning veterans, as well as fire fighters and the police. We appear to want to honor them and do so by standing and applauding when they are introduced to us within large groups of people. We make comments about how “they’re all heroes” and other such generalized compliments. We pat them on the back, having no idea whether or not they’ve actually done something heroic.
I have a friend who is an Iraq vet. He served in a supporting role and saw no combat. He tells me, without my asking, that his job was relatively safe and he rarely ever feared for his life, as many support personnel can attest. He spent most of his time at MacDill AFB in Tampa, where many of the higher level decisions are made at what is referred to as United States Central Command. He also tells me how embarrassed he feels whenever he is singled out as a hero. He feels that this singling out is not only relatively perfunctory, but insincere, since no one who is patting him on the back is actually asking him what he did. They are merely applauding the fact that he was in the military.
He has told me that it makes him feel guilty that people are seeing him as having been heroic when he knows that he wasn’t. He says that it dilutes the heroism of those who truly were, and it angers him that people will feel like they’ve somehow contributed something when, in fact, they’re just doing which they think they’re supposed to do and go away content that they’ve honored someone who is worthy of that honor. He says it feels cheap, and makes him feel that way as well.
In all three cases, it seems that, rather than go to the trouble of truly thanking someone for something that we believe is worthy of praise, heaping blanket praise on a group as a Pavlovian response to some perceived achievement on their part, yet not bothering to determine if they’re really one of those who are worthy of it, simply cheapens the entire act of offering this praise. It’s like tossing your change in the Muscular Dystrophy display at 7-11. Sure, it’s a nice thing to do, but it is very close to the absolute least you could do. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s any more than that.
Don’t just automatically praise every mother just because she’s a mother. Don’t just automatically praise every soldier just because he wears a uniform. Find out what they did that was so worthy of praise, and thank them for that, specifically.
If someone is worthy of praise, praise them. Just them, by themselves. They will likely appreciate it.