When I Compliment Someone, I Usually Mean It

The glass of incandescent light bulbs is onion-skin thin. So, too, is the glass of fluorescent tubes. But that glass is remarkably strong, yet astonishingly fragile. When either of them break, the explosive shatter suggests the sudden destruction of a mysterious power that holds them together. Otherwise, why would they fracture so violently and so completely? Their glass illustrates a physical contradiction: incredible strength and almost unmatched frailty. Physics might explain the incongruity; but magic, too, might offer an explanation. If magic is the province of magicians, then physics must be the province of physicians. This is going nowhere; nor am I…at least not at the moment.


This morning, I read a story about a man, who had just entered into the USA illegally in the Arizona desert. There, he encountered a young boy who had escaped from a vehicle that was involved in a terrible accident that left his mother badly injured. The vehicle was resting precariously on a mountainside. Rather than continuing his quest for work in the USA, the man stayed with the boy and intentionally calling attention the two of them. The man did that despite the fact that he knew he would be detained and deported if they were rescued. They were rescued. He was detained and deported. The man was honored for his life-saving efforts; his heroism. The man stayed in Mexico after the ordeal. The boy moved to Pennsylvania to live with an aunt (his mother died in the accident…his father had died earlier). The expected reunion between hero and the boy did not happen. Still, the story was heart-warming. And it left a question I cannot answer: would I have done what the man did, knowing the consequences? I hope so, but I cannot be sure because I have not had that experience. And I have my doubts. Doubting oneself is troubling.


Sixty years ago today, in the midst of an already steep decline, human decency suddenly was ripped from our subconsciousness and bludgeoned until it was unrecognizable, its bloody and lifeless image etched permanently in our collective psyches. The dam broke with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, setting in motion the flood that emptied the remaining reservoir of innocence. Despite half-hearted attempts over the years, the dam has never been repaired. Stories we tell ourselves about the fundamental goodness of humankind are repeatedly revealed to be either well-intentioned fabrications or outright lies. Yet, our gullibility in full view, we cling to religion and dozens (or more) of other emotional analgesics, telling ourselves “hope springs eternal.” That attitude masks the pain of true knowledge; unvarnished understanding. Though the pain may be softened, the perpetual throbbing ache left by the weapons of reality is evidence of a wound that will not heal.


I can take criticisms but not compliments.

~ James Taylor ~

I understand that emotional reaction to compliments; I have a hard time sometimes…I usually assume they are the result of a person wanting to be nice, not truthful. But when I give a compliment, I mean it, yet I wonder whether the recipient of my compliment things I am “just being nice.” Hard to know. I suspect it’s a little of both, when you look at all the compliments I have given, but I hate the idea of someone not believing the compliment was deserved.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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