Saturday, July 19, 2014

Protective Impulse And The (Not So) Simple Compliment

 JAN.16.2013 -
The other day when complimenting a friend on her new jacket, I asked myself why did I do it? did I really like the jacket? The honest answer was that I didn’t care for it, it was just different. So why saying that I did. It is true that I love my friend and wanted her to feel good about herself, but the more embarrassing secret was that I felt bad for her because she was wearing, what I perceived to be,  a conspicuous jacket.  

Along the same line I can offer a similar example, often when I notice that a friend has gained some weight, I often automatically make a comment on how good she looks. Here it is not that I feel bad for her, but rather I  feel guilty for noticing such a thing, and compensate for it with a compliment.

I might have thought that this could only happen to me, had I not read  The Amateur Marriage. This slightly patronizing attitude combined with kindness was captured brilliantly by Anne Tyler.  In seeing a sick friend wearing a ridiculous hat, the protagonist says something kind about it.  Tyler emphasizes the importance of this human gesture, by referring to it as a: “protective impulse”

.Ever since I read the novel I have started paying attention to these gestures in my life. I notice that in women the protective impulse is stronger than in men.  It seems to me that it usually happens, when we see something out of the ordinary which attracts our attention like the jacket, the extra pounds, or the hat. Since we suspect that our dismay was detected, we feel the need to make a comment.. Moreover, since we are not sure how we feel about it but absolutely don’t want to say something insensitive or negative, we respond with kindness.

Now,  often when  I get a compliment from a friend I wonder whether it was genuine or was uttered out of protective impulse.

But even if it was the latter, so what?  I feel  that it is better to walk tall, counting on the kindness and the  “the sympathy of other women“ (Barbara Pym's  Jane and Prudence), than to worry about learning  the real truth, about the way I look,.from  other well meaning  friends.    

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