Tonight, a new friend came to visit me. She is the wife of a mentor and colleague of mine and I have been meaning to connect with her for awhile. Our visit was simple enough – talking over coffee and a platter of fruit while my daughter chattered away, excited about this new friend in our home. I watched as my daughter fed her grapes and placed a hand on her shoulder – simple, immediate intimacy with someone she had only just met. Our conversation was punctuated with finding my little one in hiding as she shrieked with delight from behind the cupboard.
I had been promising my daughter this visit all day, mentioning that this friend was coming over and that we would all go to the nearby park together, which we eventually did. While my kid made instant friends with another girl on the slides, we talked about our experiences living in different places around the world – Morocco, Pakistan, the United States and Canada.
“What was it like living in America?” I asked. We both knew what this question meant without further elaboration. It meant, what was it like living as a veiled Muslim in America? It meant, had you experienced discrimination or violence there? It meant, did you live in fear there?
She told me about some of her experiences, narrowing in on the fact that Americans tell it like it is – for better or for worse – and that this is something she found surprisingly refreshing. People sometimes shouted out that they liked her clothes. Or they would smile at her out of nowhere.
“I think people have forgotten how to love one another,” she said. “Especially the Ummah” she added, referring to the global Muslim community.
“People don’t even compliment each other any more,” she added. “Something as simple as ‘you have beautiful eyes’,” she stated, nodding towards mine.
I hadn’t received a compliment in a very long time and didn’t even know how to react, but my body did. I had a huge smile plastered on my face and my heart lifted up for a minute. She was right. A compliment is something so simple and is, in itself a form of love, of uplifting one another just for its own sake.
How long had it been since I complimented someone?
I recalled a cartoon that had been making its way on social media – an image of a man and his son. He turns to another man wearing a hat and says “Nice hat!” When the hat-wearer smiles, the man turns to his son and says: “See? Look at his face change: Everyone can have magic powers!”
And it’s true. Heartfelt words are magical and they are powerful. They can disarm hostility and relax a hardened heart. They come unexpectedly and so they take us off-guard. We feel vulnerable because we are so used to being in defensive mode. We laugh it off as a reflex.
After she left, I decided to try out her simple strategy for social change and I started on my mother. It helped that she arrived within a few moments and she looked absolutely beautiful. I took the moment to compliment her on her shiny new eyeliner, noting that, in fact, her whole outfit was put-together and nice. She looked lovely.
“Ok….” She didn’t know what to say as a smile slowly crept onto her face.
“You look beautiful, Nanna,” my little one echoed, smiling as well.
The car filled with love as we drove away together.
One thing I have learned time and time again is that the most meaningful and lasting social change comes from the simplest of continuous interactions and compliments are yet another tool in our arsenal of tools aimed at compassion and acceptance.
I challenge everyone reading this to #complimentsomeone in our #drawingboardchallenge. Spend the next month making the conscious effort to compliment at least one person per day, whether or not you know them. That person might be you some days because, let’s face it, a whole lot of us are going a very long time without having anything nice to say about ourselves.
In a world that is becoming increasingly uncertain and where meaningful and purposeful interaction is diminishing, break down your fears and connect with others: no matter how far someone might feel to you, they are usually only a smile away.