The other day, I learned a new term from an Insta-savvy actor’s post: firgun. Wikipedia describes it as “[…] an informal modern Hebrew term and concept in Israeli culture, which compliments someone or describes genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of the other person.” The actor used the term to describe the prevailing vibe of a close group of friends consisting of fellow women actors, a demographic that is mocked for being particularly prone to envy.
Confidantes and cheerleaders
To avoid the jealously bottleneck by taking the appreciation highway is a beautiful way to steer the friendship narrative. “Replace schadenfreude with firgun” reads the mindfulness manual. Needless to say, this is easier said than done. Just like figuring out the ripeness of an avocado, paying compliments is a tricky business—how simple these little slivers of sunshine seem; how layered they actually are. While we’re on the Insta subject, let’s take a moment to examine all those passive-aggressive likes we’re constantly gathering from those who’d be delighted to see us trolled instead. And how many times have we used the heart, clap or whistle emoji in a chat to mask indifference or even resentment?
Let’s face it: it can be hard to come up with the right response to the accomplishments of others. To make things worse, it’s those of our inner circle who often fall short just when we’re looking for unbridled tareefan. For instance, the same friend who was such an angelic presence during an illness disappoints with a lukewarm reaction when you’re hitting your stride vis-à-vis career goals. Why can’t your confidante be a better cheerleader? Is it because we’re programmed to be a competitive species, incapable of unselfish regard, constantly measuring our own worth against the annoyingly visible success of others?
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
I’d like to think not. Compliments can be delightful things, if only we’re able to separate the obligatory and the insincere from the genuinely felt. For this we need to shed old habits. To look someone in the eye and say something nice about them is an undersold skill. (Like applying kajal in a moving auto.) One is caught between the twin traps of cliché and embarrassment. Who here would like to be compared to a summer’s day or chaudhvin ka chaand? Banter is the currency of a thriving friendship; no one wants to kill the vibe by slipping in heartfelt tributes between all the leg-pulling.
We all have friends who’d much rather hear a taunt or a slur than receive a sweet compliment. Now, this poses a real problem. You’ve said your firgun bit, but that warm-and-fuzzy feeling will not materialise until the complimentee has proportionately reciprocated. How horrible it is when your well-phrased praise is met with an awkward silence or quick dismissal. Worse still, some return your compliment with an insult, assuming they’re being patronised or flattered. In a culture where we’re constantly trying to protect ourselves from trolls, we’re losing touch with how to be gracious recipients of praise.
Triggering happy hormones
But the power of language is immense. Thoughtful compliments are surprisingly effective mood enhancers, triggering what are now known as “happy hormones”. And so, I’m shocked at how unimaginative we are in our appreciation of each other. Social encounters abound in the “You’ve lost so much weight!” genre of appreciation. We go on about each other’s handbags and yoga routines, as if appreciation is due only to the few sanitised snippets of our vast, messy and complicated lives. (“You make me want to be a better man” says Jack Nicholson’s obsessive writer to Helen Hunt’s implacable waitress in As Good As It Gets. Now there’s a compliment.)
We’re shockingly good at trading insults, both in jest and for real. It’s time to collectively grow up when it comes to trading compliments. For that, we’ll have to risk being seen as softies. To leap into unchartered emotional territory. To get truly creative. This is where the real potential for uplifting compliments lies. And while we’re at it, let’s try patting ourselves, and those closest to us, on the back for progress that might be invisible to the outside world. Compliments, too, begin at home. And they shouldn’t stop at the décor.
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From HT Brunch, September 24, 2022
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