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The Art of Blarney


The Irish call it blarney, and it’s something has become an increasingly rare gift. Some look at blarney as baloney, but the truth is blarney is a skill and also an art, one which some people use for their own benefit but which a very few use to make others feel good.

There are some who object to blarney. They think it insincere, butt-kissing or plain old bullcrap. In the hands of a master, however, blarney can turn a bad day into a good one, make someone who is feeling down feel better and turn tears into laughter. For the life of me, I can’t think of anything wrong with that.

I’ve been known to use my own modest skills in such a fashion. In doing so, I’ve come to realize a few things about blarney. For one thing, it is meant to be used not as a bludgeon, but as a rapier, much like wit. Used in the former fashion, it becomes heavy handed and overwhelming; people tend to react to it the same way they react to a used car salesman telling them the wreck before them was only driven once by an old lady in Pasadena. In the latter fashion, it is subtle and almost not noticed, bringing a smile to the face and warmth to the heart.

I’ve also noticed that most of the people I use it on have a difficult time accepting their blarney. Self-images, particularly among women, are at an all-time low. Tell a woman she’s beautiful and she’ll say she’s not. Tell a woman she’s kind and she’ll say she’s nothing special. Tell a man he’s either of those things and well, he’s liable to punch you in the nose.

Blarney can be used to mark accomplishments, like a promotion (you so deserved it) or a birthday (you don’t look a day over 29), or a project completed (you did a bang-up job). Blarney can be anything from a throwaway thanks for help received (I couldn’t have done it without you) or something that conveys romantic interest (I’ve never met anyone quite like you). Blarney is never florid but rather floral – a faint scent of lilacs perhaps but never a cloying overpowering whiff of perfume sprayed on with a power sprayer.

Some people assume that blarney is flattering lies, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. The best blarney comes straight from your heart and merely reflects how you feel, or what you see. Telling someone that their smile outshines the sun might be piling it on a bit too thick – but telling them you love their smile can have an amazing effect.

The point is that we all appreciate compliments and validation and although few of us are able to accept them gracefully, we still yearn for the words deep down (other than a select few who think words are meaningless). We have been battered by economic downturns, wars and the increased stresses of everyday life – it’s no wonder our egos have taken a beating. Many of us don’t think we’re worthy of recognition other than those who point a finger at us and intone “you screwed up” while adopting a stern expression, waggling that finger in shame.

We’re used to being told what’s wrong with us. We’re used to hearing all of our foul-ups and mistakes. Rarely are our accomplishments given the same emphasis. We do this to our children, our students and our employees. We seem in many cases genetically incapable of saying something complimentary. We all know someone like that. We also know people whose acceptance we crave, people we want to not just be acknowledged by but who we want to downright impress. When we don’t get that acknowledgement we feel like failures.

It can be very tough to hear things we’re not used to hearing. We feel like failures and soon we begin to believe it. We’re told we’re screw ups and it becomes part of our own identity. My father, my teacher, my boyfriend, my boss, they all said it so it must be true.

But the reverse can be true too. Hear often enough that you’re appreciated, loved, cherished and/or respected and you’re going to eventually believe that you are worthy of these things. It may take some time, but if you’re told anything often enough sooner or later you’re going to accept it as the truth. Of course, it’s usually easier to believe the worst of yourself than the best.

There are many people reading this right now who probably believe they are unlovable messes who don’t deserve any happiness. They think of themselves as unattractive in any way, as ordinary as it’s possible to be and that it’s simply impossible for them to have any impact on anybody except to disappoint them.

To those who believe this about themselves, you’re wrong. You may think that I’m saying this and I don’t know you and I haven’t been around you, but trust me, I do know you. I’m exactly like you. I’ve always had trouble believing that I’m anything worthwhile. Like you, I thought when I did something right it was an accident of the law of averages rather than a display of skill on my part. I felt adept at failure, used to disappointing my family and friends – the few I had. I thought I was more the butt of jokes than an inspiration.

A funny thing happened to my self-image however; I began to hear from people I knew twenty and thirty years ago. I hear them tell me how much they admired me back in the day, how something I said or did or wrote touched them and helped them without me ever knowing it. I was shocked at how often this occurred; people from all phases of my life from high school to my most recent job.

I was forced to re-examine my long held and long cherished self-image of a failure. I began to think about all the people I’ve encountered who have made a difference in one way or another in my own life – and I was surprised how many there were. It began to occur to me that if this were true for me, it must be true for most of us. The more we interact with people, the more of a chance we have to make a difference to them. Even the very shy – as I am and have been throughout my life – have interactions with a certain number of people. You simply never know how those interactions will resonate in the lives of others.

So a little blarney can make a tremendous difference. Cheering someone up can mean all the difference in a life – both theirs and yours. Kindness and flattery can make someone’s day – and when you make someone’s day, you can once in awhile make someone’s life as well.

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