Compliments Matter (or, Tell Someone You Value Their Work)

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In the past two months, I’ve twice met the same former student in my gym. Each time, we have a wonderful conversation about what he’s reading, his newfound love of writing, his dreams for the future, and so on. Each time, he reminds me just how much one of my classes influenced him to be a voracious reader and a deeper thinker. These are the kinds of interactions that truly make a week of exhaustion worth it. And they’re a reminder of just how important compliments can be.

You may have noticed on Twitter that there have been a few “tell an author their work matters” tweets making the rounds. The idea is pretty simple:  it’s not an imposition to tell an author how much you love their work; if anything, it’s exactly the kind of thing many authors wish they had more of. I submit that this idea applies to almost everyone. To writers, filmmakers, artists, and musicians. To fast food and construction workers. To janitors and teachers. To just about everyone who creates something that helps the world become a better place. And given that we’re about to have Thanksgiving here in the United States, I think we should really do more to let those folks know how much we appreciate them.

For myself, I can tell you that being a teacher is really tough. I know we may seem like we have it easy, since we don’t work 9-to-5 like most people (sorta), but there’s something deeply taxing about being a teacher in any profession, especially English. Some of that is our own fault — the product of the profession we’ve created by choice or by proxy. Some of it isn’t — bad work conditions, bad pay, or even the occasional bad student. And so often, the work we do gets crapped on by the public at large or outright ignored. We’re responsible for the decline in education, for bad student outcomes, and so on, or we’re not really that important in the grand scheme of the country or the world. True, some of us are actually bad teachers, and some of us really shouldn’t be in the profession anymore, but there’s so much negativity centered around the teaching profession that simply telling a teacher how much they matter can turn a bad week around in an instant.

And that’s what happened to me when I met up with that student for the second time. I got a reminder that what I do is worthwhile, that I contribute something that matters, that I can make an impact on people’s lives. Just hearing that once in a while can change my mood so much. Because it’s those moments that I go through all this struggle for. It’s what a lot of teachers struggle for.

So, if you can, maybe let someone know how much their work means to you this week. You might make someone’s day. Hell, you never know when something like that might even save someone’s life. Cause life is tough right now for a lot of people. For a lot of creative types, who have a tendency to be more acutely empathetic than most, the world of “now” can sometimes seem hopeless. But knowing that what you do matters can make all that darkness seem a little less daunting.

And I think that matters more than some of us may realize. So, go thank someone for their work. Make someone’s day.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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