Archive for the ‘Positive Thinking’ Category

Service of a Cheery “Hello”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

smiling cashier 4

Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan doesn’t like friendly employees. If he returns to his local drugstore in a day, he resents it when cashiers wish him “a good one” for the fifth time. He expects them to remember that he’d been there recently.

And he wants greetings to be genuine. In “Save That ‘Hello’ for the Next Customer,” he wrote: “Not everyone at the drugstore is equally adept at being ‘spontaneously’ hospitable. A couple of staffers had not said hello to me or anyone else since the Clinton administration, but then one day some manager obviously cracked the whip. Suddenly, they started saying ‘Good morning’ in an android-like fashion, as if they had a gun cocked to their heads.”

smiling cashier 3Some of the cashiers admitted, when he asked, that they’d been instructed to be “extra nice to customers.” He observed that their tone especially grated when he went to the store after a funeral.

He complained that supermarkets give similar instructions to their cashiers who must tell a customer to have “‘a good one’ even if they look like they might smack you.” In addition to insincere employees who are cheery because they are told to be, he dislikes strangers who say “hello.”

He continued, “There are several issues here. Misanthropes—and there are a lot of us out here—think of hyper-effusive greetings as an invasion of privacy, almost as a casus belli. That’s why we like to vacation in France, where you hardly ever run the risk of encountering belligerent conviviality at the retail level.”

Smiling cashiers 1So he could be left alone he wishes that a store’s rewards card could be programmed to indicate to staff that this customer doesn’t like to be greeted with a smile.

I wasn’t able to tell how much of Queenan’s tongue was in his cheek. I complained to management at an upstate gas station convenience store about its belligerent staff because they ignored not only my greeting but me. One of the things I resented was the total silence in reaction to my “hello,” or “good morning,” as well as “might I pay for this please?

Do you like it when retail staff greets you with a smile and happy word or does it rub you the wrong way? How can you tell if a greeting is genuine? Does it matter? Should a cashier be expected to remember that a customer has been to the store several times in a day?

smiling cashier 2

Service of Reaching Out to Opponents

Monday, May 9th, 2011


I’ve written before about going to an all-girls school for 12 years at which along with academics, athletics was a big deal. The school had two teams: Each child was made either a “red” or a “white.” We spent hours honing our basketball, volleyball, badminton, running and hockey skills, and before each game, we’d also practice a cheer which lauded the other team. So if you were a white, you’d end a clever ditty with a hearty “Go reds!”

Granted this was an extreme and the opposite of today’s fashion in politics and business to mash, crush, pulverize, obliterate, bankrupt, belittle or embarrass your opponent and for goodness sakes, never be caught on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, email, TV, radio or in public writing or saying something positive about your adversary or competitor.

presidentonphone1This is why I was thrilled and proud to hear that one of the first people President Obama told about bin Laden’s death was President George W. Bush and that he invited President Bush to join him at Ground Zero. I was equally delighted and proud when I heard conservative talk show hosts lauding President Obama for his bravery in signing the go-ahead. They acknowledged that he’d have suffered tremendous setbacks had the Navy SEALs failed in their mission.

Instead of bashing each other we should recognize and rejoice in this model by extending a hand, including those in congress and on corporate boardrooms and Wall Street.

In this mature atmosphere, extremists appear jarring and discordant, like a wedding guest passing out discount divorce coupons at the reception. Countless callers to radio programs ranted about President Obama’s fake birth certificate even after he’d provided long form proof. The same ones are now railing about where bin Laden was buried, how the attack was flawed, all the while missing the point that the murderer is out of the way. Enough already.

Do you think cooperation and mutual respect at high levels can happen again and continue? Is a moderate, supportive America in the cards?


Service of Relative Disaster

Monday, March 14th, 2011


When disaster strikes, acknowledging others who are worse off seems to help.

A dear friend was deathly ill. As her condition became increasingly dire, she pointed out that at least she wasn’t as bad off as two other people we knew. Though she was sick for a very short time and died first–they shortly afterwards–it seemed that with each diagnosis, knowing about others in horrendous physical and in their case, economic, shape helped shield the blow of her bad news.

People ask us about the condition of our house and grounds after a destructive ice/rain storm last week. By comparison to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, our damage is like comparing a broken fingernail to a death. The storm has dramatically changed our landscape and repairs are invading our pocketbook, but we are safe, lost no friends or relatives and we suffered from no consequences such as fire or radiation. We’re poised for cleanup.

icestormaftermath2011flagstsmall1Three-inches of rain turned to ice, combined with high winds conspired to suck majestic 100 year old trees out of the ground as a child might pull posies out of a field of wild flowers. The trees smashed fences and light poles and along with ruts made by transitory rivulets, the grounds are pockmarked by inches-deep silt that formerly held flagstones in place. You can’t walk on the flagstones or you’ll break them further and probably fall: They are perched in air and remind me of a bad dental job. Four days without electricity gave work to the furnace company; the septic folks and backhoe man join the arborist to get checks.

icestormaftermath2011siltsmallAlthough there is nothing we could have done to protect the grounds, I nevertheless feel sad that under our watch, they have suffered. I feel responsible for them, but as we sometimes forget when we continuously see extraordinary miracles of medicine and technology, we can’t control nature.

As we keep up with the news from Japan, even as we admit we’re shaken, we remind ourselves how lucky we are. In fact, a teenage tree planted in memory of our nephew survived quite well. And while we attend to healing the grounds, we have friends whose children, spouses, parents or friends are urgently ill.

When misfortunes or worse strike does it help you to think of others who are worse off?


Service of Snow

Monday, January 31st, 2011


Snow’s been in the news: There’s far too much of it in and around New York–more expected–and not a flake in China where it’s needed to assuage a drought.

soupSnow brings income to folks working snowplows and shovels. Sanitation workers in city and country must be celebrating their overtime paychecks. Boot, sand and salt sales are soaring and I saw a growing line of 18 waiting for soup at Hale & Hearty in the basement of Grand Central. There were countless other  super food choices-great pizza, fabulous hot dogs and brisket sandwiches–but snow inspires hot soup cravings.

Meanwhile a client bemoans the weather’s affect on retail sales, restaurants are empty and timing couldn’t be worse for Restaurant Week in New York–through February 6-where participating eateries charge $24.07 and $35 for lunch and dinner, respectively. [Can’t figure out the reason for seven cents. Why not $20.11 and cut down portions?]

I buy newspapers from a man who sits on the sidewalk on Lexington Avenue and 44th Street. I asked him how he’s doing. The storms and frigid temperatures have severely affected his monthly take. He nevertheless smiled at me and wished me a good weekend. I’d like to bottle his spirit.

shovelGood Samaritans are busy: Snow seems to bring out the best in people. One helped us out of a bad spot and wouldn’t take anything but our heartfelt thanks. We park our car outdoors at a railroad station. Snowplows had piled over 20 inches of frozen stuff at the back of our car and there was another 30 inches in front. We were using our gloved hands and a foot-long brush with plastic ice chipper to clear the car windows when this angel jumped out of his car offering to shovel us out. Even with this help, it took a while to free the vehicle. Cat litter we’d purposely left in the trunk provided essential traction for our spinning wheels. There was ice under the snow. The Samaritan didn’t leave until the car was on a clear road and the remaining snow removal was viable with our limited equipment. He said, “I hope someone will help me one day when I need it,” and drove off.

In another instance, a friend asked me for gift ideas for her Dad’s neighbors, a family with three young children. Her Dad lives alone in a house on Long Island which has been severely and consistently hit by December and January’s mega storms. His neighbors have routinely cleaned his driveway with their snow blower and if they’ve hired someone with more powerful equipment, they send the plow over to his driveway and pay for the service. They never ask; they just do it.

Do you have any snow-related thoughts and tales to share?


Service of Children’s Books

Monday, May 10th, 2010


Mary Nethery, [Left], Mary Ellen Robinson,

VP The Christophers & Kirby Larson. Nethery &

Larson co-authored Nubs.

I love buying book gifts, especially for children. But if I don’t have time to read or skim the hard or paperback, I won’t make the purchase. I spent far too much time, one Christmas, rejecting book after book, leaving the store empty-handed and frustrated by not being able to judge a book by its cover.

A failsafe shortcut is to find out if the book has won a Christopher Award. For a full list of this year’s winning books for young people–and the age appropriateness of each–visit the site. 

First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” According to the Christophers, award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others.

I was lucky to promote the Christopher Award winners in both adult and children book categories and took advantage of the opportunity to ask some children book authors questions I’ve had for eons.

Following are the responses:

How do you get into the head of a child or young adult reader and how do you know how to write for a certain age and reading/listening-comprehension level?

Kirby Larson, Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group, Inc.): I don’t! My job is to tell the story at hand as fully and honestly as possible. I find if I keep my focus on that task, I can engage my readers, no matter what their ages.

Mary Nethery, Nubs: With the exception of “early readers” or “hi-low” books [designed for children who are not reading at their level], there really are no age or reading/listening-comprehension level restrictions. Eve Bunting, a renowned author of children’s books, has said there’s no subject that can’t be dealt with for young children if handled in a developmentally appropriate way-she’s explored topics such as death, war, and homelessness.

The one restriction I impose on my own writing is always to offer hope to children. Anything less seems to me to be an abdication of creative and adult responsibility to our community of children.

How do books compete with the electronic gadgets and gizmos, TV and DVD distractions that fascinate children?

Kirby Larson: Until scientists invent time machines and teleporters, electronic gadgets and gizmos don’t stand a chance against books! What other media can fully transport a child to King Arthur’s court, to the moon, to a place where Wild Things rule?

I think adults may be the biggest hindrances to kids’ reading. We have a huge responsibility to let kids catch us reading, and to let them see how much we love and value it ourselves. And just think about the message that gets sent if adults actually read the same books – and chat about them – that the important kids in their lives are reading. Talk about powerful!

Mary Nethery: An even field of competition requires parents to introduce books to children early on, to gift them with that unforgettable pleasure of sitting in a lap as a book, another universe, is unveiled before their very eyes. But first things first: A great story that captures the heart must exist for each and every child and their particular taste. Diversity is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Do you hear from your readers?

Kirby Larson: I’ve heard from hundreds of readers – with my novel, Hattie Big Sky, fan mail has come from places as far away as Qatar and Lebanon, and from readers ranging in age from 11 to 94!

One of the emails that made me really smile was about my book, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival. A first grade teacher wrote to say that her students were now “playing” the Bobbies at recess: One would be Bobbie Dog, one Bob Cat and one Bobbie’s chain!

An email about Nubs that brought me to tears came from the wife of a military officer. She wrote, “Countless times, my husband stood on the ramp in the cold, dark hours before the sun came up, waiting for a body to be put on an airplane and flown out of the country. When he got home last spring, he couldn’t watch a movie where anyone died. Nubs is more than a dog; he’s hope and life and healing. But you knew that.”

This last email, especially, reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote: “A children’s book that is only enjoyed by children is not a very good children’s book.”

Mary Nethery: Both Two Bobbies and Nubs sell to boys and girls, men and women. They’re great examples of “cross over” books.

From fans, we receive the most thoughtful, heart-tugging emails about our books, such as this one about Two Bobbies: “I wanted to write and thank you for your wonderful book . . . When my beloved pet dog, Bear, passed away unexpectedly earlier this week, my wife handed me your book and asked me to read it. I was so touched by the story, and by the kindness that those two showed to each other. Your book has helped me greatly through my grief over my pet’s death. I never thought that I-a 30 year old man-would find so much comfort and joy in a children’s book.”

That’s the secret of books for children- they’re not really just for children after all! All books are tasked with needing a plot, great characters, and something that speaks to the human condition.

tonyahegamin1Tonya Hegamin, [Photo, Center] Most Loved in All the World (Houghton Mifflin Company), illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera [left] with Monsignor Peter Flinn. Hegamin:  Yes, I have actually had mixed feedback about the book from parents and caregivers. I had a father tell me that I was wrong to have the mother “abandoning” her child. I explained that the mother is doing the most nurturing thing she can do in her circumstance–she treasures her child’s freedom above all else and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to give her a chance. I’ve had kids love it and some who get very upset about the story and tell me they don’t want to read it again! I’m happy that it’s sparking all kinds of discussions.

How do you suggest we keep alive a reading tradition for children?

Kirby Larson: I touched on this with an earlier answer, and I second Mary’s comments. It boggles my mind that parents are letting pass away those magic moments of sitting with child-in-lap, paging through a book. Get those 3 year olds off the computer and cuddle up with them and a good book!

Mary Nethery: Ideally, every adult would embrace the concept of childhood and maintain that moment in time for each child, providing books galore at home (if they can) and liberal access to the public library which offers open arms to everyone. What we don’t value dies a natural death.

Tonya Hegamin: With my writing I try to really reach the heart of the reader.  The emotional connection between reader and writer can be very palpable and the page conveys that in a tactile manner.  I continue to write emotion-evoking books because it engages young readers to reach the heart of their other issues.  Reading those types of books keeps kids wanting more. 

What are a few of your favorite children’s books?

Kirby Larson: The book that made me want to write for children was Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, which I discovered as an adult. A Larson family favorite when our kids were small was How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen, by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Mary Nethery: I loved any book with animals that talked-didn’t care that much for reading about other kids, just animals! And, a little later on, I couldn’t get enough of Nancy Drew-I wanted to live her life, have a sports car and be a very important person!

Tonya Hegamin: I’ve always been a romantic.  One of my favorite books as a kid was Julie (Edwards) Andrews’ Mandy.  It’s about an orphan who makes herself a home.  I also loved L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle and her other books, although I never got into Green Gables.  Of course I’ve always been a fan of Virginia Hamilton– really all of her books.  I used to read a lot of Christopher Pike and Edgar Allen Poe, too.  I started reading serious poetry at 12– Rilke mostly.  I also read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in the 6th grade.  Again, anything that evoked strong emotions.

Yumi Heo, Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story (Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House): My favorite children’s books are Across Town by Sara, The Bomb and The General by Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi, and all the titles by Ezra Jack Keats.

What are your favorite children’s books? Do you have a comment or question for the authors?


Service of Disappointment

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

disappointmentHad Butler beaten Duke in last night’s NCAA 2010 Championship Tournament it would have been grand. Few had heard of Butler before the game while Duke, the top rated team, is a well known college.

butler1Now millions have heard of Butler, but the team, three last minute points from victory, must nevertheless be disappointed. None will forget the season and hopefully most will take pride in what they and their 33 year old coach, Brad Stevens, did for a little-known school: They put it on the map.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, some of the country’s most successful people–Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Meredith Vieira, Tom Brokaw, Harold Varmus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center president and Nobel laureate–suffered disappointment when they weren’t admitted to the colleges of their choice, wrote Sue Shellenbarger in “Before They Were Titans, Moguls and Newsmakers, These People Were…Rejected.”  

These luminaries clearly remember the rejection but didn’t let it trip them up. Like a leak in a brick house, they were intent on making their marks one or another way and nobody and nothing stood in their way.

scholarshipwinnersWhen the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee asks student applicants about how they handled a disappointment their answers, if memorable, can help them win a generous scholarship. Eligible students range from high school senior through graduate school.

When you work with volunteers you’d best adjust your expectations, be prepared to be disappointed or to do all the work. When I was president of an industry association, the volunteer board member in charge of marketing sat on a fabulous initiative that I couldn’t wait to launch. On the one hand, I knew that nobody would remember if it happened on my watch and that it would eventually get done. On the other hand, over-nudging this person–who took advantage of the fact that he was my client–wasn’t an option. It happened the next year.

I have friends who never forget a slight, a rejection, any situation that doesn’t turn their way. They might say that I’m the denial queen, but I have learned to forget. For example, it took me forever to come up with the example above and when I mentioned this to my husband he reeled off a zillion other disappointments, such as losses of major clients. I’d actually put the lot out of my mind.

Depending on the situation, it might take me years to forget a disappointment and I might actually be affected in ways I don’t recognize. When I happen to revisit the mental black and blue mark left by a disappointment I am amazingly relieved when touching it no longer hurts, although sometimes I’m surprised if the memory, no longer in my face, still gets a rise out of me. Of one thing I’m certain: Dwelling on a disappointment doesn’t serve any purpose. 

How do you handle disappointments? Have you used any to your benefit?


Service of Gratitude

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

The New York Women in Communications Foundation has launched a Gratitude Wall on its web site. For $10 you can let the world know that you are grateful to someone and why. Along with the message, you can also post a photo.

The initiative–recently posted–helps support student scholarships. It got me thinking about appreciation and of whom and about what I’m grateful.

Even in the best of economic times, every year has its downs for someone–it’s a universal condition my sister reminds me with each crisis. A friend, Anne, says “Nobody gets out free,” especially when you tell her about the So-and-So’s who live picture-perfect lives in a Father Knows Best 1950s-style family. All grandparents are around and in good enough shape to enjoy their brilliant grandchildren–slated for Harvard, Yale and Princeton–and siblings on both sides of the family live near one another in Kumbaya-mode–cousins, too–and, of course, there’s plenty of money all ’round.

I could take this occasion–the cusp of the New Year–to compare this year’s losses, fears and stresses and see which one of us “wins.”  I know that some readers are in the proverbial eye of life-transforming tornadoes.

But to help readjust the balance in our hearts, especially if the bad currently outpaces the good, I’ve opted to list some of the things for which I am grateful and welcome you to do the same. Every time I think I am done, I think of more things. That’s a good sign.

**My husband, friends and family. Without them, bereft wouldn’t begin to describe my feelings.

carasmall1**My furry, huggable, destructive, mouse-killing, lap-snoozing, moody kitty cat.

**When my Blackberry, computer, printer, telephone and the electricity work.

**Every day I get to enjoy our country house.

**The Millbrook Free Library [where I write many of my posts].

**When I can renew an unfinished book on line.

**The office I go to and the people in it.

**The students I mentor and continue to be in touch with.

**Dinner at home is a treat and often a surprise. My husband has become the most creative and superb cook and we eat far better chez nous than in most restaurants.

**The view of the East River from our apartment.

**When I discover a craftsperson who makes something creative in a fabulous way.

**NCIS, The Closer and Law & Order, even in reruns.

**George Stephanopoulos on Sunday mornings.

**Everyone who takes the time to comment on the posts in this blog and/or to contribute a post.

**When someone gives me spectacular service or is courteous.

**When I discover a great topic to cover on this blog–I’ve already thought of a bunch for the New Year.

**Flowers and plants, especially the ones that survive winters in a chilly house.

**A spectacular concert. We heard a goosebump-raising one recently by the Bard College student orchestra that brought the audience to its feet.

**The hope and promise of a New Year.

So tell me, what are you grateful for?

Service of a Smile

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

When a young policeman in a subway car made me smile, during an unhappy stretch, and he volunteered, “You look so much prettier when you smile,” he changed my life. Who doesn’t want to look prettier?

But there are exceptions to the smile thing. One was well after midnight in the elevator of a Chicago airport hotel. Three of us had bent over tables for hours filling almost 1,000 goody bags for a gargantuan weekend conference that we were producing for retailers. [There was no way we could hire our usual vendor to do this because we didn’t get the contents until the very last minute and there was no budget for additional on-site help.] I had the headache of a century, more work to do once I hit my room, huge hurdles yet to clear to ensure the event’s success and a 5 a.m. wakeup call in my future when I bumped into one of the clients in the elevator. [The client was an association, we reported to its marketing committee  which had 13 members.] I smiled in greeting best I could, which wasn’t good enough because he gave me a lecture about not looking jolly.

According to an article in BBC News, “Feeling Grumpy ‘is Good For You,'” [November 4, 2009], Professor Joe Forgas, an Australian researcher at the University of New South Wales claims that “being grumpy makes us think more clearly.” According to Forgas, the way a brain “promotes information processing strategies” means that irritable people can best cope with demanding situations. He said, “Negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world.”

This article was sent to me by one of the most pleasant, brightest, crackerjack problem solving women I know.

Coincidentally, Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Bright-Sided, is also in the news in the likes of The New York Times Sunday Book Review section. The subhead in the November 8 review was “Barbara Ehrenreich examines the American love of positive thinking.”

According to the reviewer, Hanna Rosin, Ehrenreich began to question this inclination when she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She was irritated, not inspired, by what she considered the false cheerful and cutesy culture around her and attitude expected of her. Rosin noted that Ehrenreich tracked the focus on positive thinking largely to Dale Carnegie-style corporate culture and celebrity pastors in megachurches.

Ehrenreich was also the subject of a post on The Daily Beast in an article by Megan Hustad [October 15, 2009], “Why are You So Damn Happy?”  From her telephone interview with the author, Hustad wrote:

“If there has been a decline in happiness in America, and we don’t shape up well compared to other countries, including, weirdly, Finland, which I always thought of as very dour,” Ehrenreich said, “it relates to all this work we do to make ourselves be more positive. Positive thinking is imposed on people in a lot of settings. If you’re in the typical corporate workplace, you are exhorted to be positive. You’re told nobody wants to be around a negative person-which could mean somebody who just raises questions now and then, questions like ‘Isn’t our subprime exposure dangerously large here?’ People were fired for that in ’05 and ’07, right up until the end of the housing boom. You just could not say something like that.”

I actually like to be and feel happy, in fact I’d say I have a positive outlook, but I don’t see that this in any way prevents me from questioning colleagues, clients, fellow board members or mentees. Clients pay me to counsel, critique and add value, not be a “yes” person. As a board member, adding my opinion, especially when it doesn’t match everyone else’s, is my fiduciary duty. Students I mentor look to me to advise them. The expected “good job” isn’t the answer I should give when I see a way to perfect an approach, résumé or cover letter.

You have every right to say, “But you work for yourself, what do you know about working for a big company?” I’ve worked for one and represented several.  Does that count?

If you are–or try to be–positive, have you simply bought into an American myth or do upbeat vibes have real benefits? Do you think you can question a boss, colleague or client and at the same time be considered constructive?


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