The case for speaking up—give that stranger a compliment

“Um, excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

I took a slow breath in. If there is one question you did not want to be asked in DC, it’s can I ask you a question. Nine times out of ten, they are religiously or politically affiliated and holding a clipboard. It’s worse than walking across a college campus and being asked if you have, “thirty seconds to save a life.”

“Sure, go ahead,” I turned to face the girl who approached me in TJ Maxx. I had just left the gym. I was tired. I was gross. I was also shopping, so clearly I couldn’t tell her I had somewhere to be.

“Do you…go to the gym, like, every day?”

All I could do was stare. Of the million and ten things she could have asked me, that question was probably the million and eleventh I expected.

“I mean…”

“Because your legs are insane.”

I looked down at my thighs as if I hadn’t seen them before. I’m known amongst my group of friends for wearing inappropriately short shorts, and these were the shorrrrrrrtttesssttttt I owned. [It was laundry day plus yoga day, so you know—double whammy on that one.]

“What do you do?”

I finally stopped being completely blind-sided and thought about the question. Maybe this girl really did want to know, and needed a few tips. I certainly gave her mad props for having the balls for walking up to a total stranger and asking. I knew how to work out. I could do this.

“I run five to six days a week, do at least one day of yoga, and lift three days a week. You need to alternate between high-intensity and low intensity—never lift two days in a row. Alternate between lifting and something light—yoga, pilates, whatever you’re in to. Run hard the days you lift hard, and run easy the days you take it easy,” I rattled off.

“Ok, I’m going to do that!”

I have a lot of random interactions with a lot of random people, but this one tops my list for the month. But if I ever see that girl again, I want to thank her for making my freaking week.

Here’s what I didn’t mention to that girl: I only ran four days that week (save the eye rolls, running to me is like brushing my teeth—it’s just part of my day). Even with multiple days off, I felt terrible on my run that evening. Earlier that day, I texted one of my girl friends, Having a bad body day, which is our universal phrase for “I’m just feeling down about myself today. Don’t try to make me feel better about it. I know I’m being stupid; I’m just not feeling my best.”

I didn’t pull my running tights over my spandex to walk home. I walked down the streets of Georgetown in those short shorts like a boss.

This year, I’ve tried hard to vocalize my positive thoughts. I tell my friends I miss them. I tell my straight-laced, conservative grandfather I love him before hanging up the phone. I think I’ve gotten better at handing out compliments.

But that girl in TJ Maxx convinced me I need to step my game up.

A compliment from a stranger is the best kind, because they have no obligation to make you feel good about yourself. Zilp, zich, nada. They are not your friend. They are not your parents. They simply have the same taste in ceramic plates and coffee mugs and will awkwardly avoid hitting you with their shopping cart in Home Goods.

This particular compliment from this particular stranger was so unexpected, it completely changed my perspective in one blow. If the same words came from one of my closest friends, it wouldn’t have half the impact. I know my friends love the sh*t out of me, and would say anything to lift my mood.

I’ve made stranger compliments before (although I don’t think I’ve ever said something so direct). I’ll comment on a girl’s shoes in the elevator. I’ll scream, “Awesome dress!” at someone while on a run. Even these tiny, almost sorry excuses for compliments still make the person smile.

So here comes the “Why not?” question: Why don’t we hand out more compliments? Why not see if we can completely change the attitude of someone we’ve never met? Because we’re afraid they’ll think we’re weird or have some hidden motive (potentially one with political or religious affiliations)?

Who cares. Those predispositions will vanish the moment you open your mouth.

I’m sure that girl has no freaking clue how badly I needed to hear something positive that night. But I’m sure it would make her pretty damn happy if she did.

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For All the F Words
You have flaws. You f-up on a daily basis. And that should be ok.