An unexpected compliment from a stranger on a train gave Jenny Brice a new outlook on the world.
An unexpected compliment from a stranger on a train gave Jenny Brice a new outlook on the world. PAUL MILLER

Unexpected compliment changed my outlook

HAVE you ever wanted to compliment someone but stopped yourself for whatever reason and then the moment had passed?

Maybe it was a stranger on the street or on a train, who you wanted to compliment about something they were wearing or something kind you observed them doing.

In contrast, have you ever felt quietly delighted when a stranger gives you a spontaneous compliment?

Have you noticed that the sense of delight often lasts longer than the few seconds it took for the stranger to give it?

Have you noticed it sparks an internal curiosity about the other person you would not normally have noticed?

That's exactly what happened to me recently but let me put it into context before I say what the compliment was.

I was on the bottom level of a crowded double decker train going from Sydney Airport to the city.

I was juggling luggage and dodging people looking for a seat. Luckily I managed to slump down into one of the few seats available, with my cases jammed in front of me.

That was the good news.

The bad news, as I thought at the time, was that I could not get to my mobile phone. I was jammed in so tightly that Houdini himself would not have been able to get it.

Like most of the other commuters I wanted to escape into my own technology bubble but it just wasn't going to happen.

My attention was quickly drawn elsewhere.

A trendy young Asian woman who was sitting next to me was playing a computer game on her phone. Her fingers were flying across the screen so fast I was mesmerised.

I was so impressed with her hand/eye coordination that I found it difficult to look away. So I didn't.

I just followed the unspoken rules not to engage or invade anyone's space ... so my head was facing forward while my eyes were on stalks observing her amazing agility.

With my eyes were working hard seeing around corners, I noticed another woman in my peripheral vision; she was sitting beside the woman with the magic fingers.

I noticed she was reading a book and leaning against the window, dressed in a long dark dress and a head scarf. I mused it had been a long time since I read a paper book and wondered what she was reading.

Without intention but with equal fascination, I started listening into a conversation that a woman was having on the other side of the aisle from me.

Even though the conversation was in hushed tones it was clearly romantic and quite tantalising. I thought how wonderful it would be to be young again.

I slowly moved my gaze in her direction to see a conservatively-dressed middle-aged women. I smiled to myself about my assumption.

I was stirred from my musings when the train started to slow down and there was the normal flurry of activity.

The woman with the magic fingers was getting ready to move. No words were passed, we all knew what to do.

I quickly bundled up my luggage and moved further down the train to find another seat. It was easier that way.

While I was manoeuvring into another seat, the woman I had observed sitting by the window wearing the long dress and head scarf said "I just love your dress" and smiled at me as she glided past to get off the train.

I was both stunned and delighted.

I was delighted by the compliment, which mad me feel nice. What stunned me was how surprised I was that the compliment came from a woman that I had presumed by her outfit, would not be interested in what others were wearing.

Sitting down in my new seat I did not automatically reach for my mobile phone now that more space was available.

Instead delight, curiosity and shame slapped me in the face all at once. I was delighted by the compliment, curious about the woman who gave it to me and shamed by my many assumptions .

In that moment I realised that even if I wanted to deny it, I was constantly seeking to live my life in a bubble fixated with technology.

I had learnt the new rules of disconnecting almost by osmosis. The comfortable bubble I had created stopped me from connecting with other real life humans and ensured any assumptions realised or not were closely protected.

As I sat back on the train I wondered if giving one genuine compliment to another human being each day, each week or when we thought it, would help us reconnect and challenge our assumptions about each other.

Who knows? But it is an idea worth sharing and something I am doing more often.