You take that back!

Backhanded compliments run rampant in our everyday interactions.

I do not like to use the term “guilty pleasure,” but if I had one it would be ABC’s The Bachelor. If you have never seen it, it is a reality show about the quest for never-ending love (however, most of the time the couples from it end up breaking up or divorcing). The format is fairly simple: there is one main love interest, and a whole crowd of potential mates who volunteer to compete for said person’s affection.

The most recent season revolves around bachelor Arie, a former racecar driver. Women from all across America have been competing for him for the past couple months. Let me just say that I don’t take this show seriously. I watch it for the drama. It gives me a release to unwind every Monday evening and forget about my pile of homework for a good two hours.

The women on The Bachelor are competitors. They all want fame…oh, excuse me, love. They want love, of course. There always end up being a few women who come off as the “mean girls.” They occasionally throw other women under the bus, they trash talk and they don’t hold back. These are the women who fuel the drama fire. No doubt they are entertaining, but the women who stand out to me more have a bit of a different approach.

For example, there could be one strong competitor who chooses to wear sweatpants during one of the episodes. Another woman may pop on screen and say something like: “It is just so great how she does not care what people think of the way she looks” to the camera. The delivery sounds like a compliment when you first hear it. It is just so great. But there is something else rooted in that sentence, and it is disingenuous. Basically, this woman is saying that the top competitor does not look good, and is disguising it as a nicety.

These backhanded compliments are all too common on The Bachelor. Sometimes they are difficult to catch, and other times they are obvious. But regardless, they are present. You may be thinking that this is pretty insignificant, considering we are talking about a reality show. But pause for a moment and reflect. Have you heard a “compliment” like this before? The answer is probably yes.

Try sitting in Anderson Forum during convo hour. It can be difficult to focus at this time of day, I know. But you will find no shortage of people. Now, do something that all humans secretly love to do: eavesdrop. Take that group of friends over by the window. A woman comes running over, waving an exam over her head. “I got a C!” She exclaims. One of her friends looks up from their MacBook. “That’s great!” They say. “If your goal is just to pass the class.” The woman turns and slumps into an armchair.

There’s a couple sitting near the wall, and the man has on a brightly colored shirt with a funky pattern. He has a huge grin on his face. “What do you think of my new shirt?” He asks. His partner pauses, and then says: “Yellow is a really pretty color. On some people.” His smile fades and he unlocks his phone to distract himself.

As you may have been able to tell, this experiment in Anderson is something that I have done before. But it goes to show you that even on our cozy little campus, backhanded compliments are prevalent. Maybe you do not think this is a big deal. But I do not understand that argument. I cannot think of a single reason why a person would voluntarily say something to hurt someone, especially if it’s someone that they care about.

Insecurity must be a factor in all of this. Feelings of insecurity, much like backhanded compliments, are something that we are all familiar with. We compare ourselves to others and we are hard on ourselves. Sometimes, we take it out on people. Let’s think back to our examples from earlier. The friend who knocked their friend down a peg for getting a C? Maybe they got a D, and are trying to make themselves look better. Or the partner who brushed off their boyfriend’s new shirt? Maybe they have always wanted to wear something yellow, but have talked themselves out of it due to lack of confidence. These are possible reasons for backhanded compliments, but they are not justified. In no way are these “compliments” productive for either person involved. The person on the receiving end is going to feel crummy, and the person doing the delivering better feel responsible.

Defensive mechanism or not, backhanded compliments are toxic and we need to be aware of their existence. Eliminating these negative impulses from our vocabularies can make the world a better place. Or, if that’s too large of a claim, at least make Hamline a better place. Check yourself next time you’re around friends and loved ones. Do not be ignorant, because even though we are not living in The Bachelor mansion, we still have the potential to harm others with our words.