Photo by Alan LightImagine the frisson of excitement that shot through me a couple of weeks ago when my daughter told me that one of her twenty-something day care counselors thought I looked like a movie star. She couldn’t remember the name he told her, but she knew he had someone specific in mind. Old enough to be this guy’s mother, I finished the day feeling smug and flattered.

Thrilled to have obviously made my day, my daughter sought to close the loop. The next morning when I delivered her to day care, she asked the counselor at the check-in table the name of the actress who “[Other Counselor] says looks like my mom.” Clearly in the know, the counselor said, “Sally Field.” I kept my face frozen in a smile as I quickly made my way out the door.

Really? Sally Field? My DAD thinks Sally Field is hot. She’s old enough to be that counselor’s grandmother, and he thinks I look like her? My hubris turned into humiliation. Humiliation, however, was not what my daughter’s counselor intended. He felt as if he had given me a compliment even though I didn’t.

There are two sides to every story, and that’s the tricky part to remember. A person giving a compliment should make an effort to present his well-intended words in a context relevant to the recipient. Perhaps more importantly, the recipient (ME!) needs to accept the intended effort, regardless of the particular presentation. A little humility never hurt anyone.

At least he didn’t say I look like Burt Reynolds.

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