“It’s like a big bathroom door,” was Linda Papadopoulos’s analogy for social media comments. Think about walking up to a public bathroom door that’s covered in graffiti. Is any of it positive? Is any of it worth reading?
It’s depressing to think that while the population that invests their time in defacing public bathrooms is relatively low (although higher than it should be), the quantity of people who perform the online equivalent continues to spread like a plague.
A plague we continue to feed with both our attention and passive acceptance.
We’ve created environments where it’s easier to be criticize than celebrate. Where destruction gains more attention than construction. And reasonable discussion is abandoned for falsehoods delivered in 140 character increments.
It’s All of Our Responsibility to Correct.
If you’ve decided that you’re someone who gets pleasure from defacing a bathroom door, it’s unlikely that I’m going to say anything here to change your mind. And for everyone who finds it useful to post hateful comments without any constructive suggestions, I doubt that behavior will be reversed in the course of this four-minute blog post.
But for everyone else, we need to recognize that the group actually performing this behavior is a small minority. Like Ann Coulter fans, it’s a small quantity whose numbers are deceiving due to the large amount of unintelligible noise.
Which puts the onus on everyone else. This plague of cynicism and destruction needs to be counteracted. Not with reciprocated animosity, but with the opposite. With encouragement and gratitude. With efforts to build people up instead of tearing them down.
Because even if most of us don’t choose to criticize rather than celebrate, too many of us find it easier to just say nothing.
Which is the behavior we need to change.
Don’t Wait to Say Thank You.
“Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people.” – Dr. Samuel Johnson
I recently went to a retirement dinner for a colleague. He managed the department that I started in as an engineer, some thirteen years ago.
As I listened to the different speeches, I thought about the impact he had on my career. He was the manager who constantly pushed me to challenge myself, the mentor who offered advice when I needed it, and the advocate that promoted me into my first management position nearly nine years ago.
So in this reflection, there was a healthy amount of gratitude. I was definitely appreciative. But I couldn’t remember the last time I’d told him so.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken that gratitude and turned it into a heartfelt thank you. I couldn’t think of the last time I let him know the impact his efforts had on me.
And to have this realization come at someone’s retirement party is, while not the worst timing, is definitely not the best.
In all the opportunities to express my appreciation, I waited until he was walking out the door. Not the best way to show my thanks.
We Get What We Celebrate.
“Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life.” – Dr. Martin Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being
Dr. Martin Seligman, a founding father of positive psychology, invested his career in using psychology to amplify well-being instead of the traditional focus towards healing mental issues. And in the time since Dr. Seligman identified the link between gratitude and satisfaction, we’ve seen the practice become increasingly more popular.
Indeed, a portion of my every morning and night is invested towards a gratitude reflection a la Intelligent Change’s Five Minute Journal.
I’m all-aboard the gratitude bandwagon. But why should that be it? Why take the time to consider gratitude without also expressing it?
The very next line in Dr. Seligman’s book, following the above quote on gratitude, suggests this very action,
“When we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.”
Practicing gratitude increases our own satisfaction. And expressing it passes on that benefit to others, but also increases our own positive experience. In the words of William Arthur Ward,
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,”
But more than that, it encourages positive behaviors. Expressing our appreciation encourages others to repeat behaviors that we’d like to see repeated. As former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake recently captured it, “We get what we celebrate.”
When we express our appreciation, we’re validating a behavior. We’re reinforcing that their behavior exceeded our expectations. Because if we don’t take the time to tell people that they’re appreciated, they will assume the opposite.
Medium is the Standard.
“We have made at least a start in discovering the meaning in human life when we plant shade tress under which we know full well we will never sit.” – Elton Trueblood
I’ve been writing on Medium for almost ten months now. I look back on those early posts and shudder at the quality. Completely unreadable. Yet despite that, some people still read them.
And despite the numerous issues with my writing quality, Medium proved to be the exception to Linda Papadopoulos’s otherwise accurate depiction of social media platforms. Even while turning out posts that would make most readers cringe, the feedback was overwhelming positive. Not with false compliments, but with continued encouragement. People consistently took the time to encourage the positive areas and offered constructive suggestions to strengthen the numerous development needs.
I still don’t consider myself a good writer. But through it all, the community on Medium has continued to be overwhelmingly supportive. Many people who have nothing to gain in return, continue to take the time to offer encouraging thoughts and positive suggestions.
I’m not alone on this. Reading through a wide variety of posts, the feedback is extremely positive. It’s the standard on Medium. It’s the culture.
It’s a place that encourages new writers because its community knows the importance of this encouragement in promoting continued improvement. And as it’s reinforced, it becomes self-perpetuating. Building upon the culture that we’ve all come to embrace.
So if this positive environment can be encouraged and sustained on Medium, I don’t see any reason that we can’t continue to extend it into other areas of our lives.
It all starts with a thank you. It builds with recognizing positive behaviors and taking the time to express our appreciation. And with that encouragement comes change. One where criticism and destruction gain less attention.
So start today. Recognize a behavior that’s worth encouraging. Don’t just reflect on gratitude, take the time to express it.
Because while it may be easier to just keep going about our day, a culture that prioritizes encouragement and development will not build itself.
And because we really do get what we celebrate.