One of my all-time favorite movie scenes takes place between Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson in the 1997 romantic comedy, As Good as it Gets. In the film, Hunt and Nicholson (who both received Oscars for their performances) humorously and poignantly portray our deep need for genuine human connection and inspiration in the midst of our personal brokenness.
The following dialogue takes place after Nicholson, whose OCD character is completely devoid of normal social skills, tactlessly – although unintentionally – insults Hunt’s choice of dinner attire.
Hunt: Pay me a compliment, Melvin. I need one. Quick. You have no idea how much what you just said hurt my feelings.
Nicholson: The mono-minute someone gets that they need you, they threaten to walk out.
Hunt: A compliment is something nice about somebody else. Now or never.
Hunt: And mean it.
Nicholson: Can we order first?
Nicholson: [places order…] Okay, now, I’ve got a real great compliment for you, and it’s true.
Hunt: I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful.
Nicholson: Don’t be pessimistic; it’s not your style. Okay, here I go. Clearly a mistake. I’ve got this…what?… ailment. My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, says that in 50 or 60 percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills. Very dangerous thing, pills. Hate – I’m using the word hate here – about pills. Hate! My compliment is: that night when you came over and told me that you would never… well, you were there, you know what you said… well, my compliment to you is: the next morning, I started taking the pills.
Hunt: I don’t quite get how that is a compliment for me.
Nicholson: You make me want to be a better man.
Hunt: [long pause] That’s may be the best compliment of my life.
I would agree with Hunt’s character that this may indeed be one of the best compliments that a person could receive. My personal experience has been that it is a rare and precious gift when someone comes into our lives who makes us want to be a better person – not just DO better, but BE better.
I’m pretty intrinsically motivated when it comes to doing my best work, and I’ve also encountered many people who reinforce that natural inclination. There are countless friends and colleagues to whom I could honestly and gratefully say, “thank you for helping to keep my professional motivation high.” But those who inspire me to BE a better person – kinder, gentler, truer, more compassionate – are considerably more rare.
I can’t speak for others, but I find that it is far easier to hold the measuring stick to my performance than to my character. It’s much easier to say – and face – that I could have done a more careful job of proofreading an article or more thoroughly prepared the panelists for a webinar than it is to admit that I have not been as considerate or courteous or even as civil as I ought. It’s not an easy thing to look in the mirror and acknowledge, “I was not my best self in that situation.” Those are hard moments, but when honestly faced, those are the moments that produce the most worthwhile kind of growth. And thus, having people in our lives who inspire those moments – not by what they say or do, but simply by being who they are – is an invaluable gift.
You make me want to be a better person.
The scene between Hunt and Nicolson is so striking because this is not the kind of compliment we pay very often. And I would bet that, like Hunt’s character, in most cases those to whom we would pay it would not expect it and would be astonished to receive it.
Someone like that has come into my life recently, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the inspiration that person provides. My prayer today is that I will be open to the cues that the Universe might send through that example to help me become a better person.
Best Compliment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrtpRNsdfYs