If you frequent Jerusalem on Friday and go under the Jerusalem Harp Bridge you’ll encounter the “Compliment Booth” belonging to religious life coach Guy Shani. But don’t rub your eyes in bewilderment!
Guy is a compliment coach, or as he puts it, a “Complimentor” a conjunction of compliment and mentor that he made up. At his Compliment Booth he offers free coaching with special tools. “People of every stripe come here from every sector and style. I don’t ask where anyone comes from I believe man was created in G-d’s image and therefore I treat every man with the fullest respect. My next goal is to make the Harp Bridge into the Compliment Bridge and have a large electronic sign posting compliments from the heart. In this way, Jerusalem the city which was destroyed through wanton hatred will have a compliment bridge that will increase unconditional love,” says Guy.
Guy travels around Israel speaking in various communities. His car is called the “Encouragement Mobile”. He invested a few thousand shekels in a taxi like dome sign on the roof that says: “vehicle for happiness and compliments”. I drive around the country to teach people how to be encouraging to others,” Guy explains.
“I speak to many different crowds. I once spoke to a crowd that wouldn’t look at a religious Jew and here I was with my black kippa and everyone is listening. The secret is that I come from the purest place from a place where I want to help them be happy with the success and happiness of someone else without being jealous. They are my brothers and I’m not trying to bring them back in teshuva I just turn to them and ask them to come learn with me how to be glad with the other’s success and make him feel good. If they want to ask about Judaism they are welcome but I didn’t come for that.”
Why do you think compliments are so important and vital?
Guy quotes Rabbi Yisrael Salanter to answer this saying: “Every person is drowning in a sea of desires and want and in the end we all need kind words. In this context there’s a famous saying; “people may forget what you said but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.” Man is an emotional creature and you will find that our entire Torah revolves around emotion. For example when we want to teach a young child the Alef Bet we have him lick honey off the letters. We can see this from our Exodus from Egypt where one of our mitzvoth is to remember leaving Egypt. This commandment doesn’t just include learning about it from the verses but to feel it. The Torah tells us eat the same food our forefathers ate when leaving Egypt, sit in a booth as they did in the desert and eat bitter herbs. Our world is full of experiences, tastes and senses. So too when we complement our friend or say a kind word to him we make him feel good and that is so important.”
At lectures people always ask Guy, how do you actually do this? How can we bring ourselves to compliment and be happy for others? Guy gives them a “Compliment Package” including a bracelet with the idea engraved on it, an Israeli flag to show this is a national mission, 10 rules for how to compliment and a bonus- 101 kind words for compliments.
What rules are found in the ‘compliment package’?
The first rule for example says: “Give a detailed compliment and not a general non-specific one”. The idea is instead of saying to your son or friend ‘you are amazing’ or ‘you are astounding’ give him a detailed compliment like ‘you have a good heart’ or ‘you’re so generous’. Can you tell the difference between them?”
Another thing is, don’t compliment just when you need a favor from that person, it will seem very insincere or based on ulterior motives. It’s also very important not to compliment a person for something he didn’t earn through his efforts. For example telling your daughter “You’re the prettiest girl in kindergarten” is something not in her hands. She didn’t earn it and such a compliment is not effective. Secondly from being the prettiest in kindergarten you can only go downhill. It doesn’t encourage initiative or action and actually reduces her ambition to try. I would compliment her by saying she gives in so well or she is kindhearted.”
Kind words instead of wars
Guy stresses that kind words aren’t only for him but also for yourself in the end. “We are all in the habit of criticizing and preaching to others telling them what they did wrong or misbehaved, but this habit doesn’t help and actually causes harm. The trick is not to be right but righteous. The nation of Israel is called “The worm of Jacob” and our sages say the worm’s strength is in its mouth. So too a Jewish person has strength in his/her mouth and can influence others not through shouts or vandalism and surely not with violence, only through compliments and kind words.”
By the way did you ever consider the word ‘firgun’ to ‘fargin’ someone (a word that defies translation). To ‘fargin’ is a Yiddish and German word that means not just to compliment someone and make him feel good, but to be happy with the success of someone else without being jealous (according to the dictionary). The idea is to stand next to friends and relatives and not want to change them to be like us just to be happy with their happiness at their success and use our strength to compliment and encourage and not to influence them to be like us.”
“More than this, compleminting is the trait of a leader,” claims Guy and proves it. “120 years ago Benjamin Disraeli ran for election to be Prime Minister of the UK. A woman interviewed him and his opponent. When concluding the interview with Disraeli’s opponent they asked the woman: “What did you think of the candidate?” She answered; I felt I was talking to the wisest person in the world and there’s no one more suited to be prime minister”. After her interview with Disraeli she answered: “I felt I was the smartest person in the world!” We know Disraeli won that election and became Prime Minister. This is the power of complements.”
“The main thing is never to forget also to encourage and be kind to ourselves. This is not haughtiness. We are required to recognize G-d’s gifts to us and the more we appreciate ourselves the more we will be able to appreciate our friends.”
Compliments against collisions
Guy doesn’t just sit back and lecture he does creative initiatives. One of these is a “complimentary” gift card (pun intended) for anyone who joins his group of people who compliment that gives them a discount at stores. “Businesses will want to cooperate because they’re doing something moral and ethical and they’ll know they’re affecting over a million people that will improve their outlook and kindheartedness.”
Guy is also sure that his activities in complimenting can increase road safety and decrease collisions. “If we pay attention, we’ll notice that the one system that has zero compliments just with fines and enforcement is the traffic system. You went too fast? You’ll get fined. You jumped a red? You may lose your license. The conclusion a driver makes is that to prevent him from killing someone (by accident) you fine him 1000 shekels. If that doesn’t work make it 2,000. No wonder collisions don’t go down rather they are the rise steadily. My ambition is to have police stop exemplary drivers and give them an ‘Excellent Driver Certificate” which provides perks like 100 shekel off the yearly registration test or a discount on safety items like tires, brakes, a baby seat, etc.”
Guy concludes with an optimistic statement: “Our sages taught us that the second temple was destroyed because of wanton hatred and the future redemption will come in the merit of unconditional free love. They also say that even if we just show readiness to love freely and encourage others and the temple will already be rebuilt. My personal feeling is that our nation is plagued with disputes and fights but on the other hand there is deep love among us. Ours is the sweetest nation in the world. There’s no doubt we are already in the beginning of the redemption. We just need more people to jump on the bandwagon and encourage and be happy with others’ successes and we’re all set!”