“I do hope you know how beautiful you are,” he told her sincerely at a recollection of how much he treasured their conversations.
She blushed at the compliment but her modesty quickly changed to dismay when she noticed the look on his face.
“Don’t!” he said simply but sternly.
She stood on, looking perplexed and confused. Ashamed at something she had done which had disappointed him. ‘What did I do?‘ she wanted to ask but couldn’t find the words. He understood anyway.
“Don’t blush. That type of modesty is very unbecoming upon you.”
She didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t quite understand.
“Do you understand the meaning of those words?” he asked. “Unbecoming? To become means to ‘come into existence’ – to ‘be’. Unbecoming is the process of going out of existence.” He paused a brief moment to let the words sink in. “Listen, I understand to an extent that your blushing is an homage to me – your respect and admiration for me. But that’s not the whole of it. What do you have to be ashamed of?”
“Ashamed?” she uttered not realizing fully she had said the words, failing to comprehend the meaning entirely.
“Yes, ashamed. And do you think so poorly of me that you would do it?” She looked at him again with a look of one that had disappointed their superior. “Oh stop,” he said bluntly but affectionately, “yes, I see by that look in your eyes that some of it is from respect. But have I ever treated you as any less than my equal?”
“No, of course not!” she replied plaintively.
“And have you ever known me to be dishonest with you? Or given you cause to think I tell you things I do not know are entirely true?”
“Do you think so poorly of my ability to think or to reason that I should utter something ridiculous or unfounded or that I arrived at without considering it’s accuracy fully?”
“Of course not,” she said flustered.
“Well?” he said with a slight smile.
She paused a moment and was struck with a thought. “But… one is not supposed to think such things about one’s self. It’s unflattering.”
“According to whom?” he asked pausing to look at her inquisitively. “By what sense of reasoning? By who’s creed? By what ‘moral right’?” He waited again to let the questions sink in.
“Have you ever known me to ask anything of you without offering you something of equal value in exchange?” he continued.
“No,” she replied. “In fact sometimes you go overboard to make sure you don’t.”
He smiled and nodded. “And would you ever know me to offer something to you that was worthless and that would provide you no value whatsoever?” She shook her head in response. “And do you think that by that reasoning, the things I give you I do so without having gotten something in return?”
She stopped to ponder this and her face lit up a little as she realized, although she had never considered it, that it must be so. Anything else from him would be simply out of character.
“And do you suppose I would ever give you anything as a bribe in expectation of something you hadn’t offered me first? As means of buying your attention or affection? Or in placing a burden of guilt upon you?” He looked directly in her eyes again and she could sense some of that same emotion of disappointment that her blush had caused a few moments before. “That is why I was disappointed. That you do not consider I would tell you that because ‘I’ wanted you to hear it.”
He waited a brief moment for her to consider what he had said.
She stared at the ground a moment considering the words, eventually raising her’s to his again and said as sincerely as she could muster. “Yes, it was selfish of you and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for the compliment.” She didn’t blush this time but still showed some slight hints of shame, not for the praise but for her reaction to it.
“But there is more to it than that. It also disappoints me to see how you think of yourself. And you shouldn’t say thank you.”
“What?” she asked, somewhat astonished at the notion.
“No, you shouldn’t say it. Not to me anyway.” He shifted his weight a moment. “When you go to your job, and you put in a hard week’s worth of labor for someone else, then at the week’s end you go to get your pay check – do you have a duty to thank them for paying you in exchange for the work you did? Something they are required by your agreement to work for them to do?”
The thought had truly never occurred to her but he was right. Her face lit up again as he spoke further. “When dealing with someone that offers such a compliment without fully understanding the words or what they are offered to acknowledge, saying thank you may well be appropriate as they will understand that to be the typical response. But from what you know of me, do you think that I would compliment you by saying you are beautiful simply based on your outward appearances?”
She let in a quick breath because she intrinsically knew it to be so. She didn’t realize it but she was starting to blush again. It quickly became apparent to her when she saw what now was an almost angry look on his face. Her face suddenly dropped to a look of horror. In a brief moment she saw in his eyes a look as though he wanted to slap her and at first she was frightened by the look until she realized something else she had missed. She was ashamed for hearing him repeat the compliment. She had felt guilt.
“You looked as though you might slap me. I was blushing again wasn’t I?” He nodded again, but didn’t say anything. “I’m beginning to understand, and had you struck me I would have deserved it.”
“I wouldn’t have struck you,” he said solemnly “and you know I wouldn’t.”
But that look, from ‘him’ was worse than any blow she thought. She understood more than she did but she still didn’t grasp fully the totality of her crime in his eyes. Again, he could sense this and sought to enlighten her further.
“You said earlier that you are supposed to be modest. That it is what is expected of you. That you don’t think to yourself about whether or not you are beautiful. Why do you suppose others do not encourage such thoughts? Why do you think ‘modesty’ is important to their virtues?”
“And do you suppose that such a person who has no understanding of what it even is to be beautiful can ever begin to know it in themselves? They can’t! Because it does not exist within them. They must make it their moral virtue to deny beauty of one’s self, because to acknowledge it is to understand that it is a vacant quantity. They must convince you that it is ‘your’ moral virtue to deny it within your self, because for you to understand that you have an abundance of it is to over shadow their lack of it and their lack of understanding of why it is even important to begin with! They must lower you to re-affirm themselves.”
“And do you suppose when such a person gives you a compliment that it has any ‘value’ to you at all? You should spit in the face of anyone that dares speak to you of beauty when they neither possess it or contain within them the capacity to understand it. They don’t compliment you based on a sense of what it means, but as one would throw a coin to a beggar to receive the satisfaction of having done a favor for someone they desire to see as their ‘inferior‘.”
He said the last words with added emphasis and they rang through her ears. ‘It is so true,‘ she thought. She could picture the types of people he referred to in flashes of faces in her mind. Shallow sorts with no self-esteem, who’s only means to validation was to deprive others of their worth. Seeing the comprehension in the flash of her eyes, he spoke further.
“When you deal with one who is your lesser in ability, but should you detect that the compliment they grant you is sincere, they make it to you as an homage. Such praise is an acknowledgment of your ability, an ability they do not currently possess. Something you have shared with them through no requirement of your own. Even if they were to compliment a singer after paying to see them perform or the painting of an artist after purchasing it for themselves, and especially when their lack of ability won’t even fully let them appreciate the nature of the art and skill they witness. To those are the sort to which a ‘thank you’ is an appropriate response. Their compliment is an admission of having met one’s superior in a given context.”
“But when you deal with one that is your equal or greater in ability, they are no less indebted to you for the sharing of your skills and talents. Yet, they have a full understanding of what those talents mean and what the nature of your abilities truly are. They can fully appreciate the mastery of your abilities, the power of your mind, the grace of your efforts and the integrity of their execution. As something you ‘earned’ by your achievement. To thank such a person as that is to negate the repayment they are offering you for what they have shared. To render it to the same status as that beggars offering.” He gave her a look that inspired her confidence rather than re-inspire her shame. It was a look that she was fully capable of grasping what he was saying and that he knew she had.
“When you think of yourself, of your abilities, your accomplishments, of the things you do, you feel pride in those things do you not?” he asked her.
“I do!” she replied confidently.
“Yet you feel no pride in the beauty of all that? You exalt the nature of your conquering the tasks you place before you, but never stop to praise yourself for the beauty required within you to even consider doing, no less actualizing them?”
She thought of the guilt she sensed and hung her head slightly. He lifted her head again till her eyes met his.
“I tell you that I do not give you things freely. When I say that, what I am telling you is that have earned them. That I expect you to earn them. And when you grant me something of value, I make it my personal duty to repay that debt. When I give you a compliment such as that, I do so because I know it has value – because I know it to be so. I can see the proof for myself, not just in your appearance but in your actions and character. I do it because you have ‘earned’ hearing it. And I do it because it pleases me for you to hear it.”
He grabbed both her hands and drew her directly in front of him and smiled a pleasant, approving smile. “Let’s try this again. Now… that you understand. My dear, my friend, my equal. I do hope you know how beautiful you are.”
With this he smiled the most wonderful of smiles that communicated so many things to her; that it was true, that she knew it, that she could not deny it, that she had earned hearing it, that he selfishly wanted her to hear it – and to know it.
She seemed to lift her entire frame up even higher to match her spirit, in proud defiance of the burden of the modesty inflicted by the envy of those that could not understand such things. Those that had no concept of beauty. Those that knew not the selfish pleasure of hearing those words and knowing they were true before they were spoken. Her smile now lit across her face in that understanding as she thought a moment before responding so as to select the right words.
“To hear those words from you, it is a compliment that is the most appreciated,” she said proudly, understanding now his suggestion and avoiding the knee jerk response to say ‘thank you’ in response to something she had earned. ‘This will take some practice,’ she thought, ‘old habits die hard.‘
Again he seemed to see into her thoughts and smiled yet again approvingly, not failing to notice the careful wording that fit the compliment without discounting it’s true nature.
He bowed his head slightly in a sign of admiration and respect and said quite simply, “It was my pleasure.”
She chuckled to herself at the thought that popped into her head upon hearing those words. ‘Yes, I have no doubt that it was.’