Joanne Palmer: Compliment don’t complain
June 23, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Let the countdown begin! 7 … 6 … 5 … 4 … By the time this column appears, there will be exactly one week until the first part of the U.S. Highway 40 construction project is completed. The good news is it looks like they are ahead of schedule. The bad news is: What will we complain about now? The construction project has been great — it has given most of us something to carp about since April. In checkout lines, bars and retail stores, shameless eavesdroppers like myself have been treated to comments like, "What were they thinking starting in April?" "They're never going to be finished." "It takes me 30 minutes to get across town." The construction has been a wonderful whipping post, a convenient scapegoat to pour out all of our frustrations. What are we going to do without it?
Just to compare, the Big Dig highway construction project in Boston began in 1991. Ten years later, only 70 percent of the project was completed. Ten years! In Denver, T-Rex began in 2001 and was completed in 2006. Granted, these were much more complicated projects, but still, I think we've gotten a little carried away in the complaining department.
I have to admit, I don't need to go across town very often, so I have been affected minimally by the construction. Only once, in my rush to get to my favorite store, Déjà Vu, I stepped into some wet concrete and my right foot sank in slimy quicksand gunk up to my ankle.
My bad! My blonde!
The construction workers and I doubled over in laughter, and fortunately (with some help from the owner of Déjà Vu) I was able to clean the concrete off my sandal before it turned into a soft sculpture. (Let me add that my misstep did not deter me on my shopping mission — I still left the store wearing a wet shoe and carrying a bag.)
I am not Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura, but complaining seems to be the universal language, the currency we love to trade in. I wonder why. I like to bellyache along with the best of them. I love to grouse about how many hours a week I work, my aging body and the fact that no matter how much "product" I add to my hair every morning, it still looks like limp spaghetti noodles minutes later.
I am sometimes startled when people come back from an incredible vacation and the first thing they say is, "The flight was delayed two hours. We missed our connection. The airline lost our luggage. But otherwise, Hawaii was great."
I have spent so much time in and around hospitals with my mother recently that I've had a good wake-up call and reminder of just how precious life is. How one day I may be looking up at the ceiling from a hospital bed, desperately wishing I could be stuck in traffic somewhere.
Today, no matter how Pollyanna-ish it sounds, I invite you to replace a complaint with a compliment. You know how this works. Random acts of kindness. Don't tell people, "Have a great day." Make it a great day. Just say or do something nice for someone — compliment them on their appearance, the great dinner they made or the time it took them to stop by. Write a thank-you note. Invite an elderly neighbor for dinner. Help unload the groceries from the car. And always stop at lemonade stands. The other day I opened my car and found a tiny vase of fresh-cut flowers in the cup holder. Those flowers sat on my dining room table for a month, and each time I looked at them it was a reminder of the kindness of the person who left them.
Remember: Replace a complaint with a compliment. Try it. Let me know what happens.