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Wednesday, December 12, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Everything is Copy: Be as quick to offer praise as complaints

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 19, 2017, 2:28 p.m.

 (THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW / Molly Quinn)
(THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW / Molly Quinn)

After a bad experience with an unpleasant physician, I did something that makes me twitchy. I wrote a negative review online.

Before I’d made the appointment to see him, I’d read scathing reviews of this doctor. Friends who knew him professionally said he was a rank jerk. Because an acquaintance had gotten good results, and because I was desperate for a new neurologist, and maybe because I’m a little perverse and often like people others can’t abide, I decided to try him. During our first visit he was supercilious and dismissive. Since I’ve long appreciated the geeky and socially awkward, I’m accustomed to and generally unbothered by this manner.

If only he were as capable as he was arrogant, I might have stuck with him. But two visits and a nasty exchange of messages was enough to know that in this case, the majority was right.

So, I added my voice to those others who expressed their disregard and dislike.

We’re often quick to complain about bad service; the ease of posting anonymous reviews allows us to trot out our ugliest selves. When nothing is at risk, consumers vent and write hateful comments they’d never say in person.

Weirdly though, many people, when they get great service, think it goes without saying that they’re satisfied.

I believe it never goes without saying, that it’s important to go out of your way to offer applause. As much I came to detest this physician, his employee who answered my phone calls and scheduled my appointments was unfailingly lovely. I made a point of telling her I appreciated how well she did her job. I enjoy wallowing in gratitude.

At my university, a handful of women pretty much run the show. Felicia, Roxann, Lynn – and others I don’t regularly deal with – provide administrative support to honchos who would be lost without them. These women, who might have “assistant” in their titles, tend to say they’re just doing their jobs when you slobber compliments all over them. That never stops me from slobbering.

The front office staff makes Helen, my dog, unreasonably happy to go to the veterinarian. They, and the vets, techs and assistants, remember us, and even in times of abject panic, like when someone comes out on the losing side of a porcupine battle, make us feel calm and cared for.

I send letters to airlines when flight attendants have been especially kind. Hotel staff can make a huge difference when you’re traveling, and I believe in recognizing their good deeds and warm demeanors by leaving comments. It can be the waitstaff as much as the food that makes me want to return to restaurants.

Since college, I’ve been sending fan letters to authors. After reading long-time New York Times columnist Russell Baker’s memoir, “Growing Up,” I wrote a note declaring him my hero. Baker responded immediately, and cutely cautioned that heroes often have feet of clay and make childish mistakes in grammar.

When I worked in publishing after graduation, I read a manuscript by a young Jerusalem Post reporter that made me understand for the first time what Israel meant to American Jews. Even though I saw him often and answered his phone calls to my boss, his editor, I mailed a long letter to Wolf Blitzer. When I became an editor myself, I got to give book contracts to the people whose work I most admired. Being an editor is the professional expression of fandom.

Facebook lets us connect with people we’ve never met and with people we used to know. I friended the novelist Harriet Chessman, who, decades ago as a graduate student, had taught my freshman literature course. I wanted to thank her for making me love Milton’s poetry, and, more important, for giving me confidence in my own writing when I needed it most.

These days I love putting admiring emotions into words. But I had to overcome bucketloads of insecurity to get there. When I was younger, and even more competitive, I wrong-headedly thought that the game of life’s sum was zero, and that another person’s achievement somehow took something away from me. While it’s easier to express appreciation for things you cannot do yourself, when someone does what you do – but better – it takes confidence to acknowledge that.

Some of my friends rarely issue compliments (and accept them ungraciously). Perhaps the graceful giving and receiving of gratitude must be taught and learned. I suspect they don’t know how much they’re missing by being so stingy with their praise.

Thank you. You did a good job. I appreciate that. Even, I love you.

It never goes without saying. And it always feels good to say it.

What I like most about the November holiday, aside, of course from sweet potatoes topped with melty marshmallow, is the name. Gratitude shouldn’t be a once a year thing. Most days I can find plenty of opportunities for thanksgiving.

Rachel Toor is a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of one novel and five books of nonfiction.


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