Monday, April 1, 2019

The Rarest of Human Gifts

Mark Twain once wrote, “the happy phrasing of a compliment is one of the rarest of human gifts, and the happy delivery of it another.”

If one were to inquire into one's ability by age to deliver a complement, the proportions decrease in tandem. Also difficult for youth is an accurate assessment of age. (Differences in age are an increasingly large proportion of one's age the younger one is.) I was no exception to either of these trends.

One time a family friend took our family out to dinner. We had known her for years. I realized I had no idea how old she was, nor of any ability to estimate such, and of no tact to mask either deficiency.

Somehow that evening I came to the knowledge of her age, and I was quite surprised as I was not anticipating a number or decade as high as I was given. I did not think she appeared to have advanced to such an age and wanted to compliment her accordingly.

I told her, “You're so much younger than you look!”

And then I realized what I had said. Those words sounded so good and so positive, but somehow they came together in a way to communicate the exact opposite of what I was thinking or felt.

Our family got a good laugh out of that. My family still gets a good laugh out of this now and then.

It reminds me of lines my great-uncle Dave Breese used to give. He would tell of people who would come up to him complimenting his speaking saying things like, “It's like water to a drowning man,” or “Each one is better than the next.”

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