By Courtney Naliboff
Indulge me in a moment of “get off my lawn.” These days, it’s far too easy to complain.
Where in the not-too-distant past someone in a snit might write a letter to the editor, or stand up at a board meeting during public comments, or motivate a voting bloc at a town meeting, nowadays, it just takes a second to go on social media or the comments section and let someone or something really have it.
It feels cathartic to complain. Now we’ve been heard, we think, now something will change! And yes, sometimes a complaint can start a conversation, or a lot of complaints can be a great indicator to an organization that there’s some sort of systemic problem.
But as motivated as we feel to complain, do we spend nearly as much time giving positive reinforcement for the things we don’t want to change?
That’s a rhetorical question, but imagine if we did? Sure, we do this through Yelp reviews, but what about in the day-to-day functioning of an organization?
In a small town, where everyone is intimately involved in all the minutiae of keeping things running, complaints happen. We complain about the ferry, not just a bad crossing but the continual changes to rates and schedules. We complain about the school, not just a difficult interaction with a child’s teacher, but the whole building and everyone in it. We complain about the make-up of the town boards, but don’t necessarily run for office.
It’s exhausting, for the complainers and their targets. And posting a complaint online somewhere isn’t the same as an action step, although it can be very satisfying in the moment. A compliment in the same place not only helps preserve the things we like about an organization or activity, but makes it much easier to hear and consider constructive criticism when it’s warranted.
Sometimes, in the throes of complaint season (which aligns pretty neatly with February and March, the times of year when we have the least to do and the fewest entertainment options), I like to imagine some sort of cosmic balance. For every complaint, a compliment. And not just quietly told to someone on the side—sent to the head honcho, to really get that recognition going.
I’m going to kick it off with a few examples from my North Haven community:
To the Mullins Head Park Commission—thank you for maintaining a beautiful public space, with beaches, picnic tables, and trails. It’s truly a jewel of the island.
To the Rec Council—thank you for your holiday celebrations and for Community Days! It’s a lot of work, and everyone in my family enjoys it (even if that bunny costume is a Lovecraftian Eldritch Horror).
To the teachers at Laugh and Learn Preschool—thank you so much for nearly four years of beautiful play and learning for my daughter. You’ve helped her prepare, academically and socially, for the “big school,” and she is confident and ready to proceed. We’ll all miss you a lot!
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I’ll end for now by saying to the Island Institute—thank you for the countless ways you support island communities: through grants, education, this publication, and the problem solving strategies you develop.
Now go say something nice!
Courtney Naliboff lives on North Haven where she teaches music and theater.