Humor by Rehana Munir: Compliments of the Season
The other day, I learned a new term thanks to the post of a keen Insta actor: firgun. Wikipedia describes it as “[…] an informal Modern Hebrew term and concept in Israeli culture, which compliments someone or describes genuine, selfless joy or pride in the other person’s accomplishment. The actor used the term to describe the dominant vibe of a close friend group of fellow actresses, a demographic that doesn’t care about being particularly envious.
Confidantes and cheerleaders
Jealously avoiding the bottleneck by taking the highway of appreciation is a great way to steer the narrative of friendship. “Replace schadenfreude with firgun” reads the mindfulness manual. Needless to say, that’s easier said than done. Much like determining the maturity of an avocado, giving compliments is a tricky business – how simple those little bursts of sunshine seem; how layered they are. While we’re on the Insta topic, let’s take a moment to consider all those passive-aggressive likes we constantly pick up from those who would love to see us trolled instead. And how many times have we used the heart, applause or whistle emoji in a chat to mask indifference or even resentment?
Let’s face it: it can be hard to find the right answer to other people’s accomplishments. To make matters worse, it is those around us who are often missing just when we are looking for unbridled tarefan. For example, the same friend who was such an angelic presence during an illness disappoints with a lukewarm reaction when you hit your stride against your career goals. Why can’t your confidante be a better cheerleader? Is it because we are programmed to be a competitive species, incapable of disinterested consideration, constantly measuring our own worth against the visibly boring success of others?
Should I compare you to a summer day?
I would like to think not. Compliments can be delightful things, if only we are able to separate the obligatory and insincere from the genuinely felt. For that, we have to get rid of our old habits. Looking someone in the eye and saying something nice about them is an underrated skill. (Like applying kajal in a moving car.) We are caught between the two traps of cliché and embarrassment. Who here would like to be compared to a summer’s day or Chaudhvin Ka Chaand? Jokes are the currency of a flourishing friendship; no one wants to kill the mood by slipping heartfelt tributes between all the drawn legs.
We all have friends who would rather hear a taunt or insult than receive a nice compliment. Now this poses a real problem. You’ve said your little word, but that warm, fuzzy feeling won’t materialize until the complimented party reciprocates proportionately. How awful when your well-worded praise is met with awkward silence or quick dismissal. Worse still, some return your compliment with an insult, assuming they are being patronized or flattered. In a culture where we constantly try to protect ourselves from trolls, we lose touch with how to be gracious recipients of praise.
Trigger happy hormones
But the power of language is immense. Thoughtful compliments are surprisingly effective mood enhancers, triggering what are now called “happiness hormones.” And so, I’m shocked at how unimaginative we are in our appreciation of each other. Social gatherings abound in the “You’ve lost so much weight!” kind of appreciation. We keep talking about each other’s handbags and yoga routines, as if the appreciation is due only to the few sanitized snippets of our vast, messy, and complicated lives. (“You make me want to be a better man,” the obsessive Jack Nicholson writer tells Helen Hunt‘s relentless waitress in As good as it gets. Now there’s a compliment.)
We’re surprisingly good at exchanging insults, both jokingly and for real. It’s time to grow collectively when it comes to business compliments. For that, we will have to risk being seen as wimps. To jump into uncharted emotional territory. To get really creative. This is where the true potential for uplifting compliments lies. And while we’re at it, let’s try to congratulate ourselves and our loved ones on progress that might be invisible to the outside world. Compliments also start at home. And they don’t have to stop at the decor.
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From HT Brunch, September 24, 2022
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