I grew up in a home where we were taught “If you can’t find something nice to say about something, don’t say anything at all.” This bit of wisdom seemed like good advice then – and still does now.
But somewhere along the way, the world changed, and now, everybody’s a critic. I see it on shows like Chopped, The Taste, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars, where judges nitpick over tiny imperfections, and criticize and compare what the contestants bring to the table ad nauseam.
I grew up in a world where there were defined winners, but doing your best, and working as hard as you could to be the best you could be, was both admirable and praiseworthy.
The generation that followed mine strayed in the direction of skipping rankings altogether, of not giving any grades beyond a satisfactory rating, and passing out participation ribbons instead of purple, blue, red and white. They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or damage anyone’s fragile self-esteem. Now, we’ve gone so far in the opposite direction – we’re so hyper competitive – that it’s scary. Nothing’s ever good enough. It’s all about being the best, better than, a notch above, a perfect 10, a fraction of a point ahead of the other competitors.
Even more frightening is the fact that we routinely ditch the opinions of qualified judges, food critics, teachers and editors along with their years of experience and training, instead, opting to give the vote to ordinary Joes. We vote to save the contender we like the best with live tweets and text messages and special apps. We, the people, hold the power.
Consumers make decisions on which books to read, which hotel, B&B, or restaurants to stay at or eat at based on what unaccredited strangers post on Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Goodreads. We review people’s performance on eBay and Airbnb. We rate products and services on Amazon and e-pinions and hundreds of other websites. Some of these posts are honest, genuine, thoughtfully written assessments. But there are also overly harsh reviews from drama queens, people trying to get hits, whiners, complainers, obnoxious know-it-alls and yes, liars. And we listen to them, take their advice to heart, and chart our course of action based on what they say.
These days, every time I walk into my kitchen at the B&B and tea house I own and operate, I feel like I’m on an episode of Chopped… the stress, the clock ticking down, the feeling that if I don’t deliver a product that’s not only beyond reproach, but exemplary – in record time – I will be chopped from the list of restaurants my clients frequent and recommend. Is it just my imagination, or are my customers picking apart every detail of my culinary efforts, second guessing my choice of cheeses, the seasoning I used on my chicken breasts, and the amount of Parmesan I sprinkle on top of my casseroles? Did one flavor overpower another? Did I plate too hurriedly? Did I commit any one of a multitude of culinary sins when I envisioned and created my menu?
I’ve had far more complimentary reviews than bad when it comes to my B&B and tea house, and my books, but every negative comment is like a dagger in my heart, sometimes because the remarks are unfair, untrue, and unjust, and other times, sadly, because what my critics have written is a valid criticism.
Our expectations are so high, our standards so close to perfection that it’s almost impossible to please. I’ve read a few early works of my favorite, big-name authors and found in many cases that the writing is amateurish, lacking in basic writing skills, and what would generally be considered sub-standard in today’s world. To be frank, there is no way these books would ever be published in today’s world. And what a tragedy that would have been, to shoot them down before they had a chance to grow and bloom and shine.
Is there a place in today’s world for a thin-skinned, people-pleasing author/restaurateur/ innkeeper who craves positive attention and compliments? My husband gets a yearly performance review – I get one every time someone opens one of my books or eats at my tea house or stays at my B&B. And the thing is, there’s not a pillow or mattress or book on earth that will please everyone, because some like it hot, and some like it cold, or firm or soft, or spicy or mild, or big or small. And no matter how wonderful our stories are, not everyone is going to resonate with our characters or get into our plot line.
I was told early on that you had to have thick skin to survive as an author. I was also told that it takes 10 positive comments to make up for one negative. I get hundreds of verbal compliments and affirmations every week, in person, and on social media. Why is it that the people with complaints never seem to speak to you directly, or give you a chance to correct the problem, but instead, chose to publicly humiliate and damage your reputation online? And why is it that those dear people who pay me compliments tend to do it privately instead of shouting it from the rooftops, as I would selfishly prefer?
What I’d like to suggest is that we all learn to look on the bright side. No situation – no traveling, dining or reading experience – is perfect. Most generally, the flaws lie in things that are beyond our control. Not to say that we shouldn’t speak up if something is grievously wrong, but in each situation we’re faced with, we have an option of focusing on the negative or the positive. If you choose the positive and look for the bright spots, the silver lining, and the good that can be found, you will be happier by far. So will I. :-) The negative? Try letting those irksome little foibles roll off your back. If you can’t find something good to say, then say nothing at all.
Now, if you have something good to say about me, my books, my tea house or my B&B, please consider posting a positive review at whatever online sites you frequent. In this Chopped world, the gift of praise is so appreciated, and much needed. Ever so humbly… Sherrie