Why we shy away from saying 'I love you'


As a nation, this is something we are brilliant at. If there was a competition, we would win the gold, silver and bronze. I’m talking about our unbeaten track record of not voicing our appreciation when we like something that someone has done. If you don't believe me, then think about it and ask yourself: when was the last time I appreciated someone or paid them a sincere compliment.


In the world around us, closer home in our startup ecosystem, and just about every sphere of life, appreciation seems to get lost in the din of competition. In fact, when it comes to our world of startups, we’re all expert critics.


I have seen this pattern for so many years and it’s always made me wonder – why are we this way? Just yesterday, I was with a bunch of bright young employees of a young company and I asked them: have you guys discovered some extraordinary stuff about each other and then gone ahead and paid a compliment? Maybe reached out to 10 of your colleagues and said something nice?” Surprise, surprise: they hadn't.


I would blame it on our parents. Yes, indeed. (You can argue with me after I tell you my story.) Also, it’s the easiest thing to do! :-)


Our parents taught us a peculiar style of appreciation and love. Tell me if my story resonates with yours.


I remember doing well in elocution and debate competitions in school. Every time I came home with a prize, my mother would smile: I could feel her happiness and knew she was proud of me. But what she said was something along the lines of, “This is all very good, but so-and-so aunty's daughter, with her great oratory skills, has got a project with BBC. It’s good, but you have a long way to go.” I wanted to roll my eyes but I respected my mother too much to actually do that.


My mother constantly worried that all these small wins might go to my head – that’s not what she wanted for me. And I constantly requested that all these small wins of mine deserved to be celebrated: I expected to be rewarded, maybe with a small gift, or an ice-cream treat or simply be allowed to not study that day. After all, that day, I was a winner. This narrative continued through my school years.


I remember calling my mother when I got my offer letter from CNBC; again, she was very happy but her parting line was, “Look at your cousin. He has gone to the US and every month he sends $1,000 back home to his parents.”

Sigh – with my mother, some things never changed. And they haven’t for most of us, even today. We are just not comfortable in giving and receiving compliments.

It’s an uneasy relationship we have with appreciation, and it’s therefore best avoided and kept in the closet.


In fact, the other reason we don't pay compliments is maybe because we don't want to be perceived as being simpletons, PR-ish, charmers and of the sucking-up variety. After all, even studies have shown that we as human beings have a bias towards people who criticise and talk negatively. We perceive people who talk negatively as being intelligent, more competent and with expertise than people who talk positively. So the more you criticise and pull down others, the more intelligent you come out to be.

A case in point: our eco-system laps up anyone who abuses, says nasty things or pulls down any company/person. Overnight, such people become stars. And we all salivate to get more of that gossip.


Positive is boring. Positive is dull. Positive is not intimate and positive is not what you enjoy in your smoke breaks. And yes, positive appreciations don’t make good headlines. However, I believe positivity and appreciation will always win the game. People I admire are extremely positive people who leave no stone unturned to appreciate, to compliment and in doing so, establish the security and love they have for life itself.


Every new day gives us a chance to appreciate life, ourselves and those around us. Let us appreciate, let us love and let us not care about what the world says.

If you love something or someone, show that love. For all you know, it might be the biggest thing you would have done for the other person.


As we celebrate Valentine's day and all the razzmatazz associated with it, let us:

promise ourselves to love, to appreciate, to compliment and to make our startup journey one heck of a lovely experience.