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A story from The Push

On my first job as sports editor for the Montpelier (Ohio) Leader Enterprise, I didn't get a lot of fan mail, so I was intrigued by a letter plopped on my desk one morning. The envelope bore the logo of the closest big-city paper, the Toledo Blade.

When I opened it, I read:

"Sweet piece of writing on the Tigers. Keep up the good work."

It was signed by Don Wolfe, the sports editor. Because I was a teenager (being paid the grand total of 15 cents a column inch), his words could not have been more exhilarating. I kept the letter in my desk drawer until it got rag-eared. Whenever I doubted I had the right stuff to be a writer, I would reread Don's note and walk on air again.

Later, when I got to know him, I learned that Don made a habit of jotting a quick, encouraging word to people in all walks of life. "When I make others feel good about themselves," he told me, "I feel good, too."

Why are upbeat note writers in such short supply? My guess is that many who shy away from the practice are too self-conscious. They are afraid they will be misunderstood, sound corny or fawning. Also, writing takes time and it is far easier to pick up the phone. The drawback with phone calls, of course, is that they do not last. A note attaches more importance to our well-wishing. It is a matter of record, and our words can be read more than once, savored, and treasured.

What does it take to write notes that lift spirits and warm hearts? Perhaps just a desire and a willingness to express our appreciation. The most successful practitioners write notes that are short on verbiage and long on empathy; sincere, short, specific, and usually spontaneous in nature.

It is difficult to be spontaneous, however, when you have to hunt for letter writing materials; so, keep paper, envelopes, and stamps close at hand, even when you travel. Fancy stationery is not necessary; it's the thought that counts.

So, who around you deserves a note of thanks or approval? A neighbor, your librarian, a relative, your mayor, your mate, a teacher, or doctor? You do not need to be poetic. If you need a reason, look for a milestone, the anniversary of a special event you shared, a birthday, or holiday, and do not constrain your praise. Superlatives such as: "greatest," "smartest," "prettiest" make us all feel good. Even if your plaudits run a little ahead of reality, remember that expectations are often the parents of dreams fulfilled.

Today, I received a warm, complimentary letter from my old boss and mentor, Norman Vincent Peale. He once told me that the purpose of writing inspirational notes (he is the best three-sentence letter writer I have ever known) is simply "to build others up because there are too many people in the demolition business today."

His little note to me was full of uplifting phrases, and it sent me to my typewriter to compose a few overdue letters of my own. I don't know if they will make anybody else's day, but they made mine. As my friend Don Wolfe said, "Making others feel good about themselves makes me feel good, too."

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