Compliments and Perceptions

Yesterday evening, while walking Conall and Finn along our road, a car approached, slowed, and the passenger side window went down. A woman of about 80 leaned her head out, smiled and looking at Conall, said, “What a beautiful dog!” as her husband slowly drove by.

They were driving a Subaru, the Vermont state car.

I have a special fondness for such drive-by compliments. First, you know they’re sincere because they come from a total stranger with no agenda other than sharing a nice thought. Second, they require little if any response from me – a smile and a heartfelt “Thank you!” are sufficient. And third, the person offering the compliment also leaves feeling good. Everyone’s happiness quotient is increased, along with oxytocin levels.

The couple in the Subaru were only the latest of several equally positive interactions Conall and I have enjoyed when out and about in our new neighborhood. Conall has greeted runners, walkers and cyclists, positive interactions for all involved. And because of Conall’s extrovertedness, I’m meeting many of my neighbors.

Their positive perception of Conall leaves me with a positive perception of humanity.

I wish that were always the case with compliments, but alas, no.

I’ve always hated the American custom, mostly among women, of greeting other women with a “compliment.” Something like, “Oh, I love your hair/shoes/jacket!” So insincere, 99% of the time. It makes me cringe. Why does interacting with me require you to notice and comment on some aspect of my physical appearance? How sexist and objectifying is that? You don’t do that with men. Why can’t conversations begin with a sincere “What’s up?” or “How have you been?” or even, “How are your dogs?” Just don’t, please don’t, toss out a fake compliment because it tells me I can’t trust you.

Not a positive perception.

In contrast, there’s this sort of compliment: It’s 1979. I’m 22 years old, a newly-divorced college student, in my car, driving in Seattle. I’m stopped on a hill behind several cars waiting for the light to change. Cars going the other direction have also been stopped, but start moving before cars in my lane do. It’s a spring afternoon and the sun in shining, so my window is down and my face turned toward the sun’s warmth as I admire the trees leafing out on the edge of the University of Washington campus. A pickup slowly approaches from the oncoming lane of traffic and I look at the driver as his vehicle obstructs my view of the trees. His window is also down, just three or four feet from me. “You have beautiful blue eyes,” the man says as he slowly rolls past my car, disappearing forever. Surprised, I don’t even have time to say thank you.

But I felt the warmth of that compliment for the rest of that day, that week, and still do even today, decades later, as I retell the story. Such a simple thing, his spontaneous compliment, with a profoundly positive impact.

That’s the day I learned how to give a real compliment: no expectations, just sincerity and a clean getaway.

The goal: to always leave a positive perception.

After the woman in the Subaru complimented Conall, I felt a huge sigh of relief and an instant sensation of, “Okay, that proves it; we’re home.” Living in Washington state, my Malamutes always elicited a similarly positive reaction from strangers. People passing by on foot or in cars would tell me “They’re gorgeous!” and ask to meet them, which the girls loved. But immediately after moving to Idaho, I noticed people showing fear, moving away rather than toward us, rarely asking to meet the girls (or later, Conall), and if they said anything, it was almost always to ask cautiously if they were wolves. I constantly lived in fear that my dogs would be shot, mistaken for wolves, because so many in Idaho had negative perceptions of wolves and “saw” a scary wolf behind every tree even though in reality they’d never actually seen a wolf because they’re elusive and want nothing to do with humans. (Wise creatures, wolves.)

It’s wonderful to again be living in a place where people don’t have irrational fear or hatred toward wolves, or dogs that resemble them. A place where Conall can greet strangers on roads and trails because they aren’t conditioned to fear him. A place where I can relax and enjoy those happy interactions, unconcerned about Conall (and me) being shot.

To once again have such positive interactions was a primary goal when I moved to Vermont.

So far, so good.

Take this morning as an example. Conall and I explored a new trail. He didn’t need his orange Do Not Hunt Me vest. He happily greeted hikers heading up the trail as we were heading down, returning to our car. One woman we met recounted how when her kids were small, they lived next door to two Alaskan Malamutes. Her kids would spend hours playing in the snow with them. “And they never barked!” she added. Her companion kept telling me what a great dog Conall is.

And that was the case several weeks ago when friends showed me and Conall a popular trail. It was a busy morning, with lots of hikers and dogs to greet as we headed back down the trail toward our cars. Almost all of the people said “What a beautiful dog” upon seeing Conall approaching them (Conall is always in lead position when we’re out on trails), either directly to me or to each other (with me overhearing). People let their children and dogs say hello to Conall without concern or fear. Only once did I hear a woman say to her companion, “It looks a little like a wolf.” Which is true; he does. But they weren’t afraid of him.

They weren’t afraid.

So different from Idaho.

So welcome to my eyes and ears, these positive perceptions and compliments.

I love sincere compliments, especially when directed toward Conall.

Feature image: lenticular clouds seen on the evening walk when Conall received his drive-by compliment.

14 thoughts on “Compliments and Perceptions”

    1. Yes; hunters/wolf killers where the primary reason I left Idaho. Vermont is a very welcome change in vibe.

      As for coldness from people on the east coast? I’m from Seattle, the home of “chill” toward newcomers (so I’ve read). And I’m an introvert. I probably won’t even notice!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You know, a lot of people don’t know what to say to others so they say, ‘I like your hair/coat/shoes” whatever. Women in particular. I never felt that was insincere. I felt it was a way to show friendliness and break the ice. My neighbor — who admits to being very shy and anxious — melts if I just take the conversational lead with, “Great jacket!” She cares about her clothes and her appearance; to her that’s how she gets a little more comfortable facing the world. My friend’s developmentally disabled son has learned to use these little compliments to put other people at ease and it works all the time. I admire him for that. He’s a little scary, obviously odd, and moves awkwardly (Quasimodo). I take those “I like your…” things as little bridges across the scary distance between two people. A DOG does that job for us. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your dogs are nice and sll but your shoes are to die for. And your hair, Rebekky, it’s FABULOUS! Hehehe…Compliments are funny things. Hard to give sometimes and frequently harder to accept. I know I tend to deflect compliments even when I know in my soul they are so richly deserved by me, me, me. It sounds like you and dogsters are in that blush of new experiences in a new home and that is really great stuff to hear. Good to see the anti-wolves are left in your rear view mirror!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha! You’ve nailed it, including the awkwardness associated with being on the receiving end of such compliments. Maybe it’s an introvert thing, unable to accept the usual, ice-breaking social compliments? I also deflect because I can’t lie and mostly I don’t like my shoes/hair/clothes!

      Otherwise, yes, things are good here and thankfully no one thinks Conall is a wolf!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Halloween’s coming. You could get Conall one of those arms from a mannikin, add a little red paint and he could carry it in his mouth and pretend to be an Idaho wolf. The neighbors would love it, I’m sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Actually we love the compliments which comes from heart not fake, which leaves a possitive perception and makes us happy and of course we have to give compliments without expectations. Very well written. Loved to read it 💓🌹💓💓

    Liked by 1 person

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