Thursday, November 25, 2010

What is the Christian response to backhanded compliments?

Sometimes in our world we receive backhanded compliments. Some of them are basically "sugar-coated insults" to borrow a phrase that I found this morning. I wonder whether the deliverer would be laughing to themselves if I actually said "Thank you"; that depends on how much the insult was intended, I suppose. Receiving a backhanded compliment puts you in a situation where you have to decide, and usually right on the spot, whether to accept the "compliment" and therefore accept the insult and thank them for it. Ever find yourself in that situation? So this morning I found myself googling, "gracious response to backhanded compliment." It's something I've needed to work on for awhile.

The basic responses I found on-line were:
  1. Return with another backhanded compliment (this one didn't really fill the bill, as it's not particularly gracious)
  2. A polite call-out of the backhanded nature of the "compliment", for example "That's not really a good thing."
  3. An acceptance with a polite call-out, for example "I'll accept your left-handed compliment with my right hand, thank you."
  4. An acceptance with positive attention to the target of the implied insult, for example "Thank you! I think (x) was pretty good too / wasn't bad either!"
To me, #2 and #4 are the best approaches so far. I'd be interested in hearing how you all deal with backhanded compliments. I think there ought to be a way to apply what Jesus said about returning good for evil, so I think somewhere is a better solution than these. In the meantime, these are keepers even if just until a better way becomes clear; they're better than what I had done before.

Update with related post, roughly 2 years later: Christian response to backhanded compliments: Reprise.  

7 comments:

phil_style said...

I actually think the best response is simply to ask the person if they really mean both aspects.

This can be done graciously, and should be done in a manner that assumes the good nature of the "compliment" giver.

For example, if someone were to say "you drive well, for a man" I would reply with. "Thankyou, but did you realy mean to say that men typically don't drive well?"

This is honest, accepts the compliment and calls out the insult. However, it does so in a manner that assumes the insult was not intended, thus provides an opportunity to maintain the integrity of the complimenter.

Weekend Fisher said...

I like that. Thanks.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I like that, too. We all need practice with these.

I remember one time (only one!) when I actually anticipated the backhanded compliment, and was prepared with my answer.

So when she waited until all the company was assembled in a small space and said loudly, "I LOVE the color of your hair!" I said, "Thank you. I like the color you've chosen, too." That shut her up, but wasn't very Christlike.

Well, there's bad blood there, so I have to confess that in the shadow of that, I'm still quite pleased with my response. Admitting it needs improvement.

There's a book called, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, which may or may not still be in print. I have found it useful, but I need to re-read it from time to time...

Weekend Fisher said...

Wow, do you know that I actually have a copy of that book on my shelf? I remember having some hesitations about some of the advice, thinking a few of the recommendations weren't suitable for Christians. But still I remember taking some pointers from that book back when I was first learning to hold my own in an argument.

I got a copy after a certain relative had, for like the third time, given me an inexpensive gift which I was glad to have, waited til I said thank-you, and THEN told me that they'd gotten a better one for another relative because they had better taste than I do.

When I finally had to accept that it wasn't an accident but a pattern, I made up my mind that if it ever happened again I'd return it on the spot and say, "I'm sorry, but I can't keep this. I'd thought it was meant as a gift." That was about the time I started putting serious effort into standing my ground better, confronting that kind of meanness instead of being a doormat.

Oddly (or not so oddly), the gift-as-insult scene hasn't happened again since I learned to stand my ground better ...

I actually had a chance to use one of these replies at Thanksgiving dinner today when I got a back-handed compliment, so I was glad I'd searched on it this morning. Come to think of it, I got a backhanded compliment last year at Thanksgiving too ... both "compliments" related to there being more grey in my hair each year. So it was similar to what happened in your situation.

Some things never change ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

A certain relative of mine rejected every gift I ever gave her, for one reason or another. She already had 3 of those, or she really had no use for this, or perhaps somebody else would like it better. After several years of this, I finally realized it was not simply a series of mistakes on my part and I stopped giving her gifts. Nothing for Christmas, nothing for birthdays.

The subject never comes up. Problem solved.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Sheesh, either I'm dense, or these things don't happen to me. Well, maybe there is one relative who does it. I don't know if he is purposeful or obtuse. But he described driving to my house like it was this ORDEAL that he had to endure. They hardly ever have come here in 33 years, but we get invited to their house all the time, so I guess it is an ordeal in reverse. I can think of a few back handed compliments I could give him about living in the suburbs. But I don't do that. Just think it sometimes.

Weekend Fisher said...

Somehow it's always the family that's difficult.