The power of a pat on someone’s back


Looking back, it occurred to me that many of us are conditioned to focus on shortcomings and ignore the good around us.

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Last week, I received an email from a reader, Joan Kimani. She told me she was 27 and that she started reading this column in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She found my stories “interesting”, she told me. She also informed me that her new-found habit of reading the newspaper had continued even after Covid-19 ebbed off.

Her email was one of my highlights last week. Nothing inspires a writer more than knowing that their work is read, appreciated and has an impact, otherwise why bother to write? I told her as much. Feedback is what inspires us to keep going, and when I say feedback, I’m also referring to criticism.

As the pandemic raged on, a regular reader sent me an email telling me to pull up my socks because I had begun to lull, as he put it. That period must have been the most difficult for me in terms of finding subjects to write about.

Scores of Kenyans had lost their jobs and businesses, others had lost loved ones to Covid-19…generally, there was lots of unhappiness, anxiety and mourning all around, thanks to a disease no one seemed to understand.

Writing a ‘happy’ or humorous article would therefore have been out of place, impossible even. As a result, there was little to write about, and the theme was more or less the same every week. An attempt at encouraging. The pointed criticism from this reader stung, but I appreciated it once the sting wore off, because the other duty of a reader is to keep you, the writer, on your toes. And yes, criticism trumps silence anytime.

That said, Joan’s email brought to the fore the importance of appreciating the effort of others without the acknowledgment having to be solicited.

Never underestimate the power of a pat on someone’s back. It costs you nothing, takes nothing away from you, but is invaluable to the recipient. Even a simple, “good job…” without elaborating is enough. That person’s day will brighten up and they will go on to have a good day and be inspired to keep doing whatever elicited the praise.

Looking back, it occurred to me that many of us are conditioned to focus on shortcomings and ignore the good around us. We are quick to point out the flaws, the deficiency we see in others, (and in us), but are either blind to those things that we and others do well, or ignore them, instead of celebrating them.

For instance, how often do you recognise your child’s improved performance at school, no matter how slight it is? Or are your elaborate comments reserved for when he or she comes home with bad grades?

If you’re an employer, do you applaud, even reward, your employees for a job well done or do you save your thoughts and opinion for when the graph begins to dip? What about your spouse? Do you compliment and show appreciation for each other or are you vocal only when criticising each other?

In this era when negativity and falsehoods spread like bushfire thanks to the internet, which has transformed the world into one small village, an unexpected kind word or encouragement to someone might just be what they need to keep going, to believe in their ability once again.

The writer is editor, Society and Magazines, Daily Nation. Email: [email protected]


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