I believe that if I used the term "atta boy/girl" in the presence of my Northern counterparts, I would be met with blank stares. Through not as dumbfounding as the Southern term as "jeet?" (translation: did you eat (yet)?), this phrase meaning "being recognized for doing a good job" is definitely not heard above the State of Kentucky. Anyway, I am firm believer in providing frequent yet meaningful "atta boys/atta girls" where possible--having experienced the positive impact that they can have in my own life.
Giving a family member, friend, or stranger an "atta boy/girl" through a simple email, note, card, or other form is almost always unexpected yet meaningful to the recipient. I remember when I wrote an appreciation note to the organist of the church that I was attending a few years ago. I was relatively new to the area, having just moved from Oklahoma to take my first real job in Tennessee as a happy 21 year old. I sent her a card thanking her for an excellent piano rendition of a Bach piece performed during a Sunday service. After church the following week, she thanked me repeatedly and said that the card "was a joy" during what had evidently been a difficult month for her. For my 8 year stay in TN, she always made a point to check with me regarding how things were going and offering me encouragement--she never forgot my thank you.
My wife, a professor, recently recieved a welcome "atta girl." With the end of the fall semester approaching, life for all students and faculty is certainly hectic. To complicate matters, she is juggling a few grant applications while still doing a fantastic job as a mom. One student sent her an email a few days ago describing how my wife's class was instrumental in helping the student with some life changing decisions that the she had recently made. In the long email, the student stated that after an abusive childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mom and step-dad, she was making a concerted effort to be a positive influence in her family; especially, with her little brother. My wife's comment was: "This is why I do what I do."
Two of the last "atta-boys" that I received were fantastic as well. A few years ago, after moving North, one of my coworkers from the TN job sent me a letter that actually contained two "good job" notes. One was from a lawyer in the DA's office, that congratulated me on a successful auto theft case that was prosecuted involving juveniles. i had made the intial stop of like 10 juveniles crammed into a van at 3 am on a summer morning, and it took days to verify that the vehicle had actually been stolen (the owners were on an extended vacation). The owner was sad the incident had occured, but was thankful no one was hurt. The second note was from a woman thanking us for the kindness shown to her when she had discovered that her elderly mother had committed suicide. Unfortunately, I only had a vague memory of the call, but do remember several officers on the scene listening to her and providing support during a difficult time (ironically, as I wrote this part, I received a Christmas card in the mail from one of the officers on the scene that day who is now a K-9 sergeant). Regardless, it was nice to be thanked.
Though I prefer sending written "attas" I did receieve a verbal good job a few months ago that was special. I was dropping my oldest son off at a gym class and was carrying the twins--the 40 lbs. in the right arm and the 30 lbs girl in the left arm (my days of being a wanna-be-body-builder are ancient history). When I got to the buildings double-doors, I used my special move--pull the door handle open with one of my fingers, catch it with my foot, use my elbow to fling the door wide, and then quickly move into the open passageway. I repeated this process through the second door while holding the little ones--which was a little more complex as the 40 lbs kiddo decided to turn and look at something. When I got inside, a mom who watched the entire comic routine, glared at me and said "Oh, you're good." Thus, I received the verbal "atta" for my fatherly door-opening abilities with a boyish grin.
The New Testament verse 1 Thessalonians 5:11 offers this direction: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. "Attas" are not something that I do nearly enough, and have made a committment today to identify more opportunities to use this effective form of compliment.
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