One of the most important tools in inter-personal relationships is learning how to take a compliment without becoming smug and appearing haughty.
One approach would be to deny the compliment; to respond that it isn't true. Although such an approach seems easier to handle from our own ego-avoiding perspective, it doesn't make the one complimenting feel very good. In fact, it can be insulting when you offer a flattering remark and it is utterly rejected.
The ideal way to accept compliments is simply to say, "Thank you very much," while not letting it go to our heads. Acknowledge their thoughtfulness and allow them to sense our appreciation for their encouragement. Hearing flattering words about ourselves always carries the risk of conceit, but rejecting them is often a selfish proposition at the expense of the compliment giver's feelings. Taking a compliment is giving affection and warmth to another.
Morrie Schwartz, of Tuesdays with Morrie, understood this lesson.
When Morrie appeared on Ted Koppel's Nightline program to discuss the unique and profound way he was confronting his terminal illness (ALS), he was watched by hundreds of thousands of people. As a result, letters from around the world kept pouring in. The letters were extremely complimentary and flattering and Morrie would try to respond to each letter. When he felt up to it, his family would sit around reading the letters and Morrie would dictate his response.
One letter from a woman named Jane thanked him for his inspiration and even referred to him as a prophet!
"Morrie made a face. He obviously didn't agree with the assessment.
'Let's thank her for her high praise and tell her I'm glad my words meant something to her. And don't forget to sign, 'Thank you, Morrie.'"
Morrie was able to balance the proper way of acknowledging a compliment without letting it transform him into an egomaniac. He was able to take and thereby give.
Judaism advocates kindness and giving. Sometimes the best way to give is by allowing others give to us and take.
The Talmud (Kiddushin 7a) discusses a case in which a commoner wished to transfer his own property to a wealthy, prominent man. Simultaneously, the wealthy man was given a separate small gift by the commoner. This wealthy man 'had it all' and was not inclined to accept gifts. However, he made an exception in this case.
In Jewish law, one of the ways to officially transfer ownership is for the recipient to give something tangible to the patron. In this circumstance, says the Talmud, it was unnecessary for the wealthy man to do so. His very acceptance of the commoner's gift is tantamount to his actually giving something tangible -- the tremendous boost of distinction to the commoner in the gift's acceptance.
Similarly, in commanding the Jewish people to donate funds to construct the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, God says, "Take for Me, a donation…gold, silver, copper" (Exodus 25:2-3). Wouldn't it make more sense for God to say, "Give to Me a donation"? Why "take"?
Can we ever truly give anything to God, the Infinite Source Who lacks nothing? When we "give" to God, we are really taking. When He allows us to give Him funds for the Mishkan, He is really giving us prominence and significance in accepting our gift.
Taking can be giving.
I know a woman, Janet, who recently suffered a terrible tragedy in losing her son to an Arab terrorist in Israel. After the shiva mourning period was over, Janet's kind and considerate friends did not want her to be alone and continuously offered to take her out for a cup of coffee just so they could talk. Janet did not particularly feel like socializing during this time, preferring to sort things out on her own in peace and quiet. But Janet quickly realized that she had to accept the offers and go out with her friends. Not for her own sake, but for her friends. Her friends couldn't stand to see her go through such enormous suffering and felt a powerful need to do something for her, to somehow remove a minute amount of pain from her heart. Janet realized this and decided to let them try. She had to take in order to give.