The Power of Positive Feedback, or My May 25th Resolution


Yesterday was one of those days when I was not exactly full of joy.  A long  teaching day was made even longer by an after-school meeting.   The massive pile of papers sitting on my desk at school did not, alas,  get graded during the night by generous and  industrious elves.  It was windier than heck out here in the Bay Area, which always makes me feel grumpy, and something — either my allergies, or the new medication I’m taking to combat my allergies — was draining my energy and making me wish I could walk around with an IV drip that injects caffeine directly into my bloodstream.

I have had happier days.

But when I got home, there was an envelope for me in the mail. It was from The Catholic Spirit, the diocesan newspaper for St. Paul and Minneapolis, which periodically prints my columns.  Inside that envelope was another envelope, and inside that one was a handwritten letter from a man in Minnesota, telling me how much he had enjoyed my latest column.  The column was about Mary and how she can be a model for us during uncertain times, and he told me that he had never before thought about the power of faith that Mary had.   He said that the article gave him some strength that he could use in his own daily life, and he thanked me for writing it.

And that letter absolutely made my day.

Writing is such a solitary act.  You write a blog post or column or book and then send it out there into the world, and lots of the time you don’t get any feedback.   You just hope that what seemed urgent and meaningful to you feels urgent and meaningful to other people, too.   You go on faith, I guess — and when you get an email or a blog comment telling you that your words had an impact, it’s such a thrill.  It makes you feel that somehow, someway, you are doing something right.

And though I love positive feedback in any form, there was something so unexpected and special about receiving an actual handwritten letter.  I get so few of them these days.  Amid all the junk mail, it was so meaningful to find a little missive, sent for no purpose other than to say thanks.

This experience makes me want to pay it forward.  That little bit of feedback meant so much to me, redeeming a day that was about as blah as they come.  The reality is that there are are lots of people in my life who write, say, and do things that touch me in a positive way.   Wouldn’t it be a great spiritual practice if I made a habit of letting them know?

I think it would.  And I intend to begin.

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