Ours is an increasingly insular society. Hop on the subway and you’ll see dozens of people plugged into their phones. Sit down in a cafeteria and you’ll observe dozens more absorbed by e-readers and magazines. Head to the mall and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants to talk with, look at, or even open the door for you. And that’s fine: The people and activities we love always get prioritized above the general public. But here are a handful of surprising and compelling reasons why you should consider reaching out to strangers — not just to speak with them, but to compliment them.
1. You know exactly how amazing it feels when a stranger compliments YOU.
It’s always gratifying when your mom or boyfriend or bestie tells you that you have a gorgeous smile, or that you’re a knockout in that dress, or that your laugh is infectious. But when a total stranger takes the time to put you on pause and offer genuine praise, it feels utterly amazing. Compliments from strangers stick, linger, even alter our self-perceptions. Consider the power you have to offer that to someone.
2. The snowball effect is real.
The world is teeming with body-snarking. Don’t believe me? Turn on E! or TMZ. Open any women’s magazine. Log onto virtually any website that shows photographs of human beings. And while that kind of body-related smack talk may seem harmless and amusing, it snowballs. Compliments, admiration, and genuine appreciation can snowball, too. You can’t change how the world works with one compliment, but every little bit of positivity helps. Truly.
3. You never know whose crappy day you might transform.
Offering a compliment to a stranger is a gift, regardless. But since you’re reaching out to someone whose background is a total mystery, you never know how powerful your offering might become. That dude whose sweater vest you complimented? He could’ve been on his way to meet a blind date, and your words may have shored his confidence. That elderly woman whose nails you commented upon? She could’ve been feeling acutely lonely until you spoke up. There’s no guarantee, but your act of kindness could be a total day-maker.
4. Karma is real.
Even if you don’t believe in Karma in the original, reincarnation-related sense of the word, consider this: Those who pour nothing but negativity into the world are unlikely to be rewarded with gobs of love and kindness and success. Giving out compliments opens you up to receiving them. In fact, if you hand one out to a stranger and you might get one back right away.
5. You’d make your grandmother proud.
Being friendly with strangers is becoming an “old world” behavior, which means that it carries an elegance that most people find admirable. If you want to exude sophistication – and know that, somewhere, you gran is beaming at you – offer kind words to a stranger.
6. You might connect with someone totally amazing (or at least find out where she got her stuff).
Compliments are conversation starters. If the gal sitting next to you on the airplane is wearing a stellar necklace, tell her so. Maybe she made it. Maybe she got it on sale and will tell you where to grab one for yourself. Maybe it’s an heirloom from her grandmother who was the queen of something. Maybe she’s allergic to it and dying to find it a new home and will take it off and give it to you on the spot. Compliments are door-openers and can lead to fascinating conversations with marvelous people.
7. Tiny acts of bravery can lead to bigger ones.
You might not feel strong enough to quit your awful job or chop off all your hair or move to a new city. Not today. But bravery is like a muscle: If you stretch it and build it up, it grows. Speaking with strangers can feel daunting, but if you push yourself to overcome that fear, your overall bravery level will rise. Soon you’ll be going to movies by yourself, taking dance lessons, flirting with ease. And, eventually, leaving behind your awful job and spent city in your bold new ‘do.
Now listen: I don’t advocate handing out compliments to just anyone. If someone is giving you the Crazy Eye, or seems lost in a deep blue funk, or just throws off a scary vibe, then forget it. Use your judgment and select your strangers wisely. But once you’ve glimpsed someone who has a marvelously intricate hairstyle or an enviable pair of shoes, and once you’ve decided she/he is a safe bet, take a chance. It could lead to great, great things. For both of you.
Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.