The Power of Negativity

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Freedom .


Why is it that hurtful words can be etched into our hearts forever and quiet kindnesses sift away like wind-swept sand on the beach?

The phantom roofers finally showed up today and promptly left. I know they showed up because I ran home from work at lunch to have a chat with them about jerking me around last week and then being MIA from work and they’d apparently been there just long enough to park their dumpster on my front lawn after asking someone who doesn’t live at my house if it was okay. They didn’t come back.

It certainly didn’t help with a positive attitude on my part. And the major home improvement company was down yet another promise…the one about exactly where they were to park the dumpster and where they most certainly were not to park it.

Meanwhile, I called to find out why I was being billed incorrectly for the roof—a little glitch that dropped my credit score below 800 overnight and made me even less happy with the major home improvement company. After 20 minutes of rising blood pressure in phone hell (aka, “Press 3 to disconnect this call because we don’t let real people answer customer service calls”), I finally was able to bypass the system and find a human to talk to.

Her name was Chris, and it wasn’t her department and she didn’t have access to my account. But she was wonderful. It was all in her attitude.

She was charming and friendly and apologized for the delay while she dug through her desk looking for a number for the Customer Care department that would get me through to a “real person” who could bring up my account and fix the error. We chatted and my blood pressure dropped some and, well, she did a great job of customer service, even though it wasn’t officially her job.

Flying By Night novel

But her kindness is fading already….if I didn’t capture it here, right now, it would be forgotten quickly, erased by her colleagues. The power of the negative can be monumental and it can erase any good feelings in any relationship, business or personal.

I was in a better mood already and feeling rather optimistic of a quick resolution when the woman in Customer Care answered with a quick, blunt, “This is @*#&%$, Customer Care. What is your account number?”

“Excuse me?” What was it she’d said? Wachovia? Salovia? Lavonia? I was jotting down the time, date, and my point of contact for future reference. She didn’t have an accent. The name was more unusual than mine, and I frequently repeat and spell my name. “What was your name again, please?”

“I told you my name.” That caught me off-guard. So did her immediate attitude when I’d not even mentioned my issues and was soft-spoken…at the time.

“Um, yes, you did, but I didn’t quite catch it. Could you give me your name again?”

“I told you my name.”

“And it was…Lavonia?” I was pretty sure it wasn’t, but I didn’t want to offend her with what it really sounded like.

“Yeah, sure, that’s it. Now what’s your account number?” Same tone of voice. Sorry to be a customer disturbing a customer care rep! Apparently the call wasn’t recorded for quality because the conversation went downhill from there with her raising her voice at me that my billing was correct in spite of the papers I’d signed because it was their procedure to do it that way and up to me to get it reversed with a phone call from the store…even though I’d sat across the table from my sales rep when he made that call and I’d talked to their financing office and they’d run my credit check and given a thumbs up—no bills or interest for a year. Not at all what was on my account statement.

“You’re not listening to me,” she yelled at one point. “I told you, this is our procedure.” Whatever her name was, she finally went to get a supervisor at my insistence, at which point I lost her, never to get back through their phone system again.

So the former kindnesses of the day faded very quickly amid the harsh tone and negative words.

Why is it always like that? I can remember word-for-word two bad reviews I’ve gotten on my books. All the good ones? I don’t remember. At all. I have a vague feeling of something nice having been said, and whenever I stumble across them again, I’m always surprised by it. I just don’t remember it. I burned the bad reviews long ago and practiced Vicki’s mantra of stomp about a bad review for five minutes but don’t give it any more of my energy than that. Yet, I still remember the bad ones. To this day.

Most writers are like that when it comes to reviews.

I think most people are like that with criticism. You remember the harsh words of a parent or the cut-your-heart-out evenly stated comments of a lover. They’re always right there, right below the surface, waiting for the least thing to dredge them up.

But the sweet messages, the gentle whispers, the oh-so-tiny syllables that let us know we’re loved seem to fade into the aura around us, dissolving into beautiful color but so hard to pick out with distinction and just becoming a part of us instead of sticking out like a knife to the back or the throat or the heart.

I’m making more of an effort now to capture those words, to write them down. Sometimes they’re just quotes that are meaningless to anyone else. Sometimes they’re like affirmations. And mostly, they’re sweetly private and tucked away where only I will see them.


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