There’s nothing wrong with compliments — it’s all in how we receive them.
“With my nose in the book, I heard everything that was said around me and even those things it would have been better for me not to hear because vanity slips so easily into the heart. One lady said I had pretty hair; another, when she was leaving, believing she was not overheard, asked who the very beautiful young girl was. These words, all the more flattering since they were not spoken in my presence, left in my soul a pleasurable impression that showed me clearly how much I was filled with self-love. Oh! How I pity souls that are lost!” — Therese of Lisieux
This confession was made by St. Therese of Lisieux in her Story of a Soul. Her analysis concerns the very salvation of the soul. Praises in themselves are not a sin, but the way we receive them can become one.
A good compliment fosters a healthy sense of humility
Vanity inflates the ego and leaves no room for God, who must be our alpha and omega. There are two kinds of vanity – one is self-importance, stemming from anything, and the other is selfishness, which claims to be the end goal of everything. A compliment doesn’t lead to vanity unless we assume that we are the only ones it concerns. This is something that St. Therese picked up on.
These two criteria should be a guide on how to perceive a compliment without endangering our souls. We must always remember that “every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17), that we are meant to serve others (Mtt. 10:8). This is why Henri de Lubac used to say “Gratias tibi” (Thank you) to all who paid compliments to him, and never forgot to add “et Domino” (and God) under his breath. A good compliment helps to foster a healthy sense of humility and self-esteem instead of a false modesty.
Father Pascal Ide and Sybille d’Oiron
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