Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Words & the Life Lesson from Yelp

I just had an A-ha! moment about the use and power of words--words that build up versus words that destroy. 

In this technologically democratic age, Yelpers, Bloggers, Facebookers, and Twitter-ers have assumed a right to voice, critique, and promote persons, products, and companies according to their fancy. Yelp in particular thrives on this self-centered sensibility and perpetuates a culture of entitlement among its users. "I have the right to critique a restaurant for not satisfying my expectations" for example or "I have the right to give or withhold golden stars to a company that underperforms" (what a flash back to elementary school).

Don't get me wrong, I've used yelp many times, and I believe there is usefulness and a degree of fairness in this public and democratic rating system--a system that rewards honest businesses with honest feedback from everyday citizens (irregardless of the purchasing power for ads); after all individual enterprise and hard work underlies the ideological heart of the American economic system.

What struck me today however, was that as I took a self reflective look at my participation in the yelp culture, I saw how my reviews, for better or worse, impact real people with real lives in real time.  

Today I received my first emailed Yelp Note from a European immigrant woman who recently started a house cleaning business. Based on the lack of information, enthusiasm and interest she provided over the phone, I decided to hire a different company...and gave the European woman a one star review complete with the standard practice of justifying my review. I posted my review and didn't think much of it. After all, it's Yelp...and that's what Yelpers do, right? 

Or so I thought. 

When I read this woman's yelp note, I was forced to consider the impact of my review on her life. Her note read more like a plea to take down my one star review--she said she worked so hard and was so tired everyday that it was hard for her to even tie her own shoe in the morning. 

Admittedly my initial response was not one of compassion. I read her note and walked away. I wasn't going to change my review based on a sob story, I told myself. ...But then I stopped and asked, "What would happen if MY life were written up like a Yelp review?" Didn't I sometimes have bad days? Days when I was short with people? Times when Im not so pleasant? Moments when Im tired and speak with curtness? If my life were on Yelp...how many one star reviews would I get? 

I'm sure it'd be alot!

And so I thought about the woman who was working hard to make ends meet. And I thought about how much she needed high Yelp ratings...and how little it would cost me to revise my review...and how my one flippant one star rating could possibly compromise her livelihood. 

...so I wrote her a personal note...and deleted my one star review. 

...and she thanked me. 

And I decided today that I will use social media--including this blog--for the sake of building up and not tearing down. I want my words to give life, not bring death. 

This blog is a collection of people, places, things and events that I love about Hawaii written with the hope that it would inspire, encourage and equip both locals and mainlanders to enjoy the big and small things that the rich islands have to offer. From this day forward, I am committed to be ever mindful of the use and power of my words so that this site offers life, laughter and a little taste of aloha.  

- mlg. 

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