Did I Say That?: Joe Pisani praises the wonder of getting positive reinforcement from his car

Joe Pisani ponders praise in his latest column

Joe Pisani ponders praise in his latest column

Joe Pisani /

I love positive reinforcement. I can’t get enough of it. I need to constantly hear, “Keep up the great work!” “You’re doing a fine job!” And “I wish there were five more like you...at a cheaper salary!”

I recently hit the positive reinforcement jackpot. When I turned off my Toyota Highlander, a message appeared on the dashboard console that said: “Great job! You’re driving steady! You know how to conserve fuel! You’re saving the Earth from global warming! Al Gore wants to meet you! You’re an inspiration to the rest of humanity, at least the ones who own cars!” Well, it didn’t exactly say ALL that, but it did compliment me on my driving skills.

I was so motivated I started the car and drove around the block three more times so it would compliment me again. I can’t remember the last time someone — man, woman or machine — complimented my driving. My wife usually says: “slow down dammit!” or “you ran that red light!” or “BRAKE!!!”

I want to congratulate the executives at Toyota who came up with this automotive feature because it makes me feel fulfilled as a motorist.

As a kid, I never got enough positive reinforcement. I grew up in a dysfunctional family surrounded by cleanaholics, alcoholics, shopaholics and other assorted aholics who have yet to be diagnosed or classified by modern psychology.

There was no positive reinforcement in our home, but we loved one another the best we could. Even if we didn’t say, “I love you,” we expressed it in other ways by yelling and insulting.

Family life brought out the best and the worst in us, but generally the worst. We would put one another down, in a polite way of course, but this toughened us up so we could endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and misfortune in later life.

Growing up, we got a lot more criticism than praise. We always heard what we did wrong but seldom heard what we did right, if anything. I suspect my entire generation had the same experience. We were raised before the self-esteem movement became the Holy Grail of parenting.

I can’t really blame my mother and father because they grew up during the Depression. Being members of the Greatest Generation, they practiced tough love, which means to say they were generous with “destructive criticism” because “constructive criticism” hadn’t been invented yet.

I had similar experiences in high school. I can still remember Brother Jerome screaming at me during English class and whacking me across the head because I defied his directions and used the pronoun “I” in a writing assignment. But I didn’t flinch! I stared the guy down because my mother could scream a lot louder and my father had a more powerful punch. I learned a valuable lesson from that incident. It taught me to use the pronoun “I” as often as possible. Hahaha! I, I, I, I .... I’m going for the record, Brother Jerome, and you can’t touch me now!

As a teacher, I understand the importance of positive reinforcement. Without it, students shrivel up. With it, students think they’ll get an A when they only deserve a C. Positive reinforcement is so complex that I don’t entirely understand it.

During the years I managed newsrooms, the training gurus always told me that employees crave positive reinforcement MORE than a raise or bonus. Stupid me, I believed them. However, my staff wanted real raises, not phony praise ... and the more raises the better. “Give us the cold, hard cash!” they grumbled. I, myself, begged for praise and offered to forego my bonus so the publisher could get a bigger one.

Dear reader, I can’t give you cash, but in the spirit of the season, I want to lavish excessive undeserved praise on everyone reading this column, all 11 of you. Without a doubt, you’re the brightest people in Connecticut, if not the universe. You’re discriminating, literate, cultured and refined. I’m at a loss for adjectives. You can repay me by sending some positive reinforcement my way.

Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.