The power of the positive call

On Tuesday night, at the Washtenaw County Courthouse, I sat for over seven hours in a conference room with two young men — Rick and Christopher.  They had been hired by the Associated Press to report the vote count, just like I had been hired by Reuters. These guys were old pros, I was the rookie.  They had done this job all through undergrad and were now in law school and pharmacy school, respectively.  They each had to get up for 8:50 class the next morning, but were glad to stay up late phoning in results because AP pays them ‘a ridiculous amount of money’.

You can’t sit in a room with two others for that long without having a little bit of banter going back and forth, even if you are making phone calls or entering data into an app. (Isn’t it cute that the young guys had to call in their data and the middle aged woman got to use her app?) We all had our Mac books open and were watching the screens for updated counts.  We were also clicking on news websites to see how the media were reporting the results.

One of the guys observed that the media only reports the bad stuff that politicians do.  He asked, what would it be like if every day at the end of the day, someone announced only your mistakes and none of your accomplishments?

Today in Ann Arbor, a middle aged woman slept in very late, stayed in her pajamas until mid afternoon, didn’t comb her hair at all, forgot to feed the dog, left dirty dishes in the sink, and ignored a call from a friend. 

Wow.  What a loser. I would prefer the following:

Today in Ann Arbor, a lovely wife and mother enjoyed a luxurious morning of rest, was greeted by her loving golden retriever, shared lunch with her husband, enjoyed a work out at the local gym, and made delicious black bean nachos for dinner. 

I asked the guys what would happen if at the end of each day the news media reported all the cool things that the president and his ‘buddies’ accomplished?  One of them quickly replied, “We would turn the channel.”

Can you imagine it?

Today in Washington, for the two thousandth day in a row, the president arrived in the oval office, dressed and pressed, at six a.m.  He led his staff meeting, gave a press conference, met with a foreign dignitary, and consulted with the joint chiefs, all before his noon lunch meeting with the secretary of education. 

Instead we get carefully constructed sound bytes meant, quite frankly, to draw viewers and increase ratings. Almost without exception, they are framed as bad news.  And, hey, we’re human. We can’t turn away when we see the collision on the side of the road.

And then, fueled on negativity, we rush out into our circles of people and  share ‘that horrible thing’ that we just saw on the the television.  “Did you hear…”

What would happen if we just as enthusiastically ran to our people and shared the good stuff that we see?  Well, first we would have to notice the good stuff, which might mean that we have to turn off the negativity for a moment. We might have to actually demand more of our media and insist that they report the good things that are happening in our nation.

Educators learned a long time ago the power of the positive call.  Imagine you are sitting down to dinner with your family, asking everyone, “how was your day?” when the phone rings.  “Hello, Mrs. Smith, this is Mrs. Rathje from Junior’s high school.  I just wanted to let you know that Junior arrived to class early today and straightened all the desks for me before everyone else arrived.  That really started my day off well and I just wanted to let you know what a fine young man you have.”

Did you smile when you glanced over at Junior who was sitting looking at his plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes?  Did you walk back to the table, look Junior in the eyes, and say “That was your teacher, she said you made her day today.”  Did you see Junior look up, meet your eyes, and smile sheepishly? Did you see him sit up straighter when you beamed at him?  Did you hear him start to tell some details about his day?

It took the teacher time to make that phone call, but first it took a decision to notice the kid who was doing something right in addition to the one who was doing something wrong.  It’s easy to get consumed with putting out fires and noticing the troublemaker in the crowd.  In fact, some kids cause trouble just to get noticed.

It takes a mature, seasoned teacher to notice Junior in the back of the room doing what he is supposed to be doing for the two thousandth day in a row.  It takes a counter-cultural move to focus on him, to publicly praise him, and to celebrate his consistency with the people who care about him.

It’s not as exciting to report on what is going well, but it’s much more productive.  It draws people together instead of putting them at odds.  It breeds a spirit of celebration rather than cynicism.  It inspires a shared, “Go, team!” rather than a divisive, “You suck!”

I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye to corruption or to real problems in the world. I’m just saying it might be nice to give the good and the bad equal time.

Ephesians 4:29

Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful

for building other up according to their needs,

that it may benefit those who listen.

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