Say you’re walking down the street, and someone you don’t know greets you with a “hi” or “good morning,” and you don’t acknowledge the communication. You simply walk by without saying anything. Would that be considered rude by most people? Or at least unfriendly? Probably.

Then let’s suppose that the person is someone you know. And you still walk by in silence. Now you’re getting into territory that might be considered weird behavior.

Now let’s suppose it’s your boss. And you still don’t respond! Crazy? You bet.

But that’s the kind of thing that happens all the time with emails. And I’m afraid that it is creeping into other areas beyond email. With regard to emails, I once was the editor of a small newspaper and a new staff writer in the beginning did not respond to my emails. I had no idea whether he got them or not. Why send emails to a person in your own office? Sometimes I communicate better in writing, and also there’s a record of the communication. Anyway, I communicated to the writer that I expected responses, and the problem was solved.

But when I communicated to my own boss, the publisher, that I would very much appreciate his at least sending a two-word response to each of my emails ­– such as “got it” – he would admit that he should respond and he would say that he would try to get better at that. But he never did. He continued to act in the same way. No response. No acknowledgment. Did he even get a certain email, and if he got it, did he open it? I didn’t have a clue with respect to about 85 percent of the emails I sent him over an eight-year period.

I am no “Miss Manners,” but this kind of behavior strikes me as not treating a person properly. Indeed, it might be argued that an increase in unacknowledged communications over time is an indicator of the decline of a civilization. Does that sound extreme? Maybe I just don’t get it. Why would lack of acknowledgment be acceptable?

On the other side of the coin, I must admit that there have been unsolicited emails from people I don’t know that I have not answered. They’re like TV commercials, and I don’t feel obligated to respond. But there have also been times when I’ve missed emails from people I know. They somehow got overlooked in the flood of emails I get every day. That’s why, as editor, I used to tell our freelance writers that if I didn’t respond, I didn’t see the email, and it should be sent again. In other words, it got to my inbox but it got lost in the shuffle, so the lack of acknowledgment was a signal I didn’t see it.

When I was editor and posted a job opening, I tried to respond to each and every application that was submitted. The gratitude I received for simply acknowledging that I had received the application was unbelievable. It was as if I was a new hero in the world of job applicants simply because I told them I got their applications.

What does this have to do with Tom’s Touch? Sometimes we forget to acknowledge people because we’re so busy that we forget that it’s an important part of life. Of course anniversaries, graduations, and birthdays are typically remembered and acknowledged, and photo books and slideshows can be a great way to really boost the acknowledgment beyond the ordinary. But there are so many instances, particularly in the workplace, where good work remains unacknowledged. I know, because I am guilty of it too. Does a worker have to die or get a terminal illness before he or she is acknowledged?    

Despite the disturbing communication trends exemplified by emails, I recently had an experience that gave me hope. On a recent horseback ride, the conversation turned to how horses like to be praised by a little pat and word of encouragement (and I responded that humans appeared to like that also – perhaps without the pat, which might be construed as sexual harassment). On that ride we had some guests in their twenties who seemed to have a good time. And lo and behold, my wife and I received a thank-you letter about it. Handwritten!

I know that such behavior is a statistical outlier, and I can’t count on any resurgence in the area of handwritten thank-you notes. But I’m hoping that a movement might begin regarding responses to emails. Still, I’m not holding my breath. Just this past week I was asked to send some story ideas to a company regarding its new website, and so I did. I’m still waiting for a response.  My guess is that it will never come.  

 
 
I guess you could say my ideas about the importance of recognizing people all started with John Hale. Hale and his son Bill had established radio station KABN in Big Lake, Alaska, in 1979, and he wanted me to come up from Texas and help them out. I went up to take a look, and when I arrived I discovered he had made it “Tom Locke Day” on KABN Radio. I had seen Hale do the same sort of thing when he was manager of the Alaska State Fair in 1974, when I was working for him there. He would make it “Shem Pete’s Day” at the fair, or honor some other person in the same way, and hold a ceremony that day. I carried some of those ideas over to The Flume, Park County’s Bailey, Colo.-based newspaper, when I became editor there because I knew that Hale was right: It’s important to recognize people. It’s important to honor them. The first year that The Flume held the Holiday Extravaganza, with booths and entertainment at Fitzsimmons Middle School, was 2006. That year Gracie Trast, who had given so much of herself for the developmentally disabled in Park County, was honored with a song, several certificates (including a resolution from the county commissioners making it her day in Park County), and the inaugural GRACIE Award from the Platte Canyon Chamber of Commerce. That GRACIE Award has continued to this day, honoring people who have done a lot for the community. The next year, the Fairplay-based South Park Chamber of Commerce joined the fun by producing the True Pioneer Award, also presented at the Holiday Extravaganza. It also continues to be awarded each year. At the Flume, the Golden Correspondent Award and the Flume Hall of Fame were added in the same spirit. It doesn’t take much to produce such an honor, but it can be important. It is not uncommon to see these types of honors listed in obituaries or on display at memorial services.

Tom’s Touch was born in this same spirit. The funny thing is, when you make it someone else’s day, either literally or figuratively (for instance, through honoring that person through a photo book or slideshow), to some extent it becomes your day too.  And, to some extent, it also becomes our day.