If you feel it, say it

Recently a quiz made the rounds on Facebook. “How bitchy are you?” it asked. Clearly it was intended only for fun because I came in at a mere 43%, and even taking into account the piles of mood-altering drugs I ingest every day I expected to score far higher on the bitchiness scale.

The quiz reminded me of something I learned in my earliest days in retail: a customer would tell five people about a good service experience but would tell fifty about a bad experience. I don’t know whether that figure held in areas other than the high-end stores where I worked, or if it has changed since the advent of Yelp and other ratings web sites, but it seemed clear that the risks of pissing a customer off were greater than the potential rewards from making one happy.

I think that in many situations we have a baseline set of expectations, and rather than be pleased when those expectations are met we are simply not disappointed. Satisfaction becomes only a lack of upset.

And when expectations aren’t met, when things don’t go just as we want, then we gripe. We gripe to the waiter, we gripe to the manager, we gripe to our friends, we gripe on Yelp. And if we do happen to return to the same place, we gripe to the waiter, manager and our friends about the last visit.

It seems that we need things to be really super excellent for them to be worth discussing. Only yesterday Calvin went out to get lettuce for a salad. He asked what kind and I said “anything but iceberg.” After a while he came home with a big head of very pretty green leaf lettuce and I made a salad. Halfway through lunch he asked if the lettuce was ok. I said yes, it was. And it hit me.

It was indeed very nice lettuce and probably just what I would have picked if I’d done the shopping. But because it was OK, because it was only OK, I hadn’t thought it worthy of comment. How kind it would have been of me to tell Calvin how perfect it was, and that I would have chosen the very same type myself. I had proved my own point.

One of the lessons I learned after my suicide attempt was not merely to have and appreciate people who are important to me, but to tell them. I’m not expert at it yet but I find myself saying “I love you” a lot more than I did two years ago, and it feels good.

I wonder where it comes from, this predisposition to complaint but not to praise.