Millennials, Whatever Happened to the Honest Compliment?
Can you remember the last time someone congratulated you like they really meant it?
Can you remember the last time someone congratulated you like they really meant it?(Photo: iStock)

Millennials, Whatever Happened to the Honest Compliment?

Can you remember the last time someone congratulated you like they really meant it? No? Well, neither can I. (Why) is our generation losing the art of the compliment?

As a millennial in my late twenties, I have received my fair share of stock, insincere praise. However, I truly noticed its ubiquity after I posted about my first book launch on Facebook. Although I was connected to a bunch of writer friends, most of them – even the ones I was quite close to – simply left an insipid ‘like’ or comment.

It wasn’t a case of envy – these were people who were far more accomplished. What then was the cause of their half-hearted behaviour? I had to get to the bottom of this.

I turned to Google, and soon I had my answer. We are living in an age of social media bragging, validation and schadenfreude. It irks us to see other people doing well, because that pressurises us to follow it up with our own successes to avoid feeling inadequate.

We hit like and say congrats, but we don’t truly mean it. Even when we are lavish with praise, it’s generally done with a hidden agenda. These traits are nothing new, but they have increased today because we have become more narcissistic and self-centred as a generation. While we’d rather focus on building our own personal brand, we know that we have to give to get. So we approach praising others as an unpleasant task that needs to be done. The result? Generic, unfeeling, envious – even mean-spirited, backhanded compliments.

I was not convinced; there had to be more to the story. So I asked some millennials to share their views. This is what they said:

There’s too much brilliance everywhere

Student Saad Ahmed Shaikh, 21 narrates his experience with faux adulation.

“While I've been fortunate enough to have people around me who are honest with their appreciation, I have encountered maligning comments as well. Case in point, I had won a competition in college for the second consecutive year. I was surprised to see that apart from the usual congratulatory messages, there were a few which implied that I had bagged the prize because of favouritism.

With everything being so accessible, the awe factor has been reduced. We see brilliance all around us through social media, so it has become a normal thing to encounter. We just aren't impressed easily anymore.”

We don’t want to share the spotlight

Anwesha Tripathi, a 21-year-old writer, says something most creative folks are bound to relate with.

“Being a writer, it's always important to have people who'll honestly tell you what they think of your work, so that you can improve. However, a lot of my peers, and sometimes even I, end up leaving a like and an Amazing work! in the comments. Not all of us have time to leave long comments every time, but I know people who wouldn't even bother to read the whole thing before parroting their rehearsed part.

This decade has seen more and more people turning to arts. There's always a writer, a poet, an artist, who's much better than you are. You might read a brilliant piece, and feel overwhelmingly awed and jealous, all at once. You ask yourself: if I give them an honest compliment, would that reduce my part of attention?”

Social media has replaced actual conversations with smileys and tags

Aitijya Sarkar, the 22-year-old founder of The Wall And Us thinks social media is to blame for our in-person awkwardness.

“Our generation takes the online world too seriously. We aren’t used to heart-to-hearts and genuine compliments. We’ve instead resorted to tagging and uploading a picture of our friend on their birthday as a proclamation of love. That’s where the problem lies. The online world is expected to be fleeting, so when someone genuinely tries to compliment you, you dismiss it or brush it off as nothing.

I remember telling someone I know that she was one of the most beautiful people I’ve met in my entire life, only to be met with disbelief. She went on to recite the names of the people she thought were better looking than her, just to prove me wrong. This need to disprove was because it didn’t come through a screen, it was told to her face. It couldn’t be reacted to with a heart or a thanks.

Psychiatrist Seema Hingorrany shares a few tips to help us give meaningful compliments:

1. Work on improving your self-worth and deal with your complexes, if any. It takes a secure person to express sincere admiration for another’s achievements.

2. If you are praising someone with an ulterior motive, ask yourself – “Why am I doing this if it’s not heartfelt?”

3. Some people also do it just because they don’t want to feel left out. If it doesn’t come from your heart, don’t indulge in obligatory praise.

(Mahevash Shaikh is the author ofBusting Clichés. You can find her using words and pictures to express herself and redefine the word “normal” at www.mahevashmuses.com)

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