Giving In to Compliments

Because I wanted to be humble, I used to focus too much on my weaknesses. Now I understand that God wants us to grow confident from our successes.

"Take counsel from your strength not your weakness." —James Whistler

Photo by Pochatun

“We talk about being kind to everyone and filling our speech with love, but whenever you say even one nice thing about yourself, it gives Mormons the go-ahead to insult you.”

Confused, I looked at my date, prompting him to explain. He continued, “For example, I’ll say, ‘I love cooking. I’m pretty good at it too.’ Inevitably, I’ll get a sly remark about how I lack humility. People always make others feel awful about saying something good about themselves.”

This astute observation made all too much sense to me. Had I not done the same thing yesterday to a friend when he said he was a good ice skater? “I see your humility is on point too,” I’d joked. This response had come so naturally.

I recalled other instances: a time when a guy I knew told my friends and me about his workout regimen, and we rolled our eyes and criticized his “boasting.” I remembered seeing his face drop a little after seeing our reaction.

Here we were calling him out for his “pride,” and yet we were the prideful ones by implying with our put-downs that we were better than him. When my date pointed out the hypocrisy in this, I couldn’t help but wonder, what is wrong with saying positive things about ourselves?

In looking for an answer, I found a 1971 general conference talk titled “Great Experiences,” by Elder Sterling W. Sill. He discusses a “philosophy of excellence” that involves focusing on our strengths and not on our weaknesses. He gives the example of the artist Whistler, who once painted a magnificent and exquisitely crafted bouquet of roses. Though many people wanted to buy this painting, the artist refused to sell it, saying, “Whenever I feel that my hand has lost its cunning, whenever I doubt my ability, I look at the little picture of the spray of roses and say to myself, ‘Whistler, you painted that. Your hand drew it. Your imagination conceived the colors. Your skill put the roses on the canvas.’”

Whistler continued, “Hang on the walls of your mind the memory of your successes. Take counsel of your strength, not your weakness. . . . Think of the times when you rose above your average level of performance. . . . Hang these pictures on the walls of your mind and look at them as you travel the roadway of life.”

Sill encourages us to have great experiences and fill our lives with excellence. He says, “We tend to load ourselves up too heavily with guilt complexes, mental problems, insecurity, and mediocrity.”

Our criticism of other people taking pride in their accomplishments can be a reflection of our self-criticism. When we focus too much on personal weaknesses, we resent others when they gain confidence from their successes. Sill explains that the gospel teaches us to cultivate excellence and that “whenever excellence is recounted, it is increased.”

To learn more about taking counsel from your strengths, read Sterling Sill’s full talk: “Great Experiences.”


—Jessica Olsen, Mormon Insights contributor

feature image by mars

Find more insights

Watch “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in which he explains that our progression in life is gradual but can ultimately lead to perfection.

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