They are polite, petite prevarications. Well, maybe we should call them fibs. The passing remarks that we make as we open conversations. “You look great. Have you lost weight?” Sure, it makes us feel good, even as we know that the scale shows roughly the same number as it did a year ago, or two, or 10. Perhaps it has creeped up a little. Could it be that we appear more attractive these days than previously? Could it be that the last time we looked terrible, depositing a lasting impression of disarray?
Compliments reinforce communal groups. You are our friend, and we want for you to feel good. Feeling good makes you like us. We like that you like us, it makes us feel good. It is a silly little circle but one that may be required to keep the social fabric intact. Yet for the most cynical of us, each passing remark of praise is met with resistance, even suspicion. How could we look better now when we do not believe that we do? How can we be called thinner when we know we are not? Are we being manipulated to some nefarious end?
Still, denying the seemingly gratuitous remark isn’t the solution. We only injure the well-intentioned well-wisher to claim some abject moral superiority. Isn’t our truth better than theirs? So, we accept it with a banal “thank you.” Or we deflect, “No, I’ve not lost weight, instead I’ve decided to grow taller. It seemed easier.” Regardless, we manage to keep the discourse moving.
Aren’t we better when we are better connected? What’s the harm in accepting a tribute, even if a might superfluous, that benefits both the sender and receiver? Would it be easier to simply say, “I like you. Do you like me, too?”