Emily Schwartz and her kids, Zachary, 5, and Avery, 7, in the airport on their way to Chicago.

Emily Schwartz, a Temple Emanuel of Tempe board member, recently found herself on the verge of complaining about the customer service of a local eatery. Her “hangry, frustrated self” got online to issue a complaint on a restaurant’s website.

But before hitting send, she stopped and asked herself why she only complained and never gave compliments. After all the good experiences she’s had, she wondered why she dwelled on a single negative one. And she knew how hard the pandemic hit the service industry. So, instead of complaining, she decided to make a point of giving compliments.

Schwartz made a decision that from that day forward, she would show her appreciation to anyone with whom she had a good interaction. And she would go one step further and let a supervisor know as well. She wanted workers to feel good, but she also wanted management to know the good efforts of their employees.

As good as giving compliments felt, she wasn’t sure acting alone would make an impact.

“I realized I’m only one person, but we could do exponentially more good through the strong community of Temple Emanuel,” she said, via email. In July, she created the “Summer Compliment Blast” and challenged her community to be more mindful of people’s good work and to give compliments when they were warranted.

Initially, she created a spreadsheet for members to log compliments that she could track. The first 20 people who logged on did it that way, but Schwartz said “a kindness explosion doesn’t fit very neatly into a spreadsheet.”

While that option is still available, people have taken mainly to social media to express their appreciation. Schwartz reads Facebook messages saying “I used to do this a lot and I’ve fallen out of practice” or “Yes! Love this community! I’m ready!” And people write posts describing detailed exchanges where they end up paying someone a compliment.

Meryl Briscoe is one congregant who got on board with the idea right away. “Whether it be the friendly grocery clerk that helps in the self-checkout or the baristas we see each morning that have our order ready when they see us cross the parking lot, a mile and a few words go a long way,” she said, via email.

Briscoe posted about one incident in which a grocery clerk noticed that her husband had left his wallet on the counter, and the clerk secured it and awaited his return.

That’s the kind of encounter Schwartz hopes people will acknowledge and share.

Schwartz added her own recent positive exchange. On a trip to Chicago, her family’s first trip since the pandemic, her kids wanted a donut. Looking at the plethora of donuts on offer at Dunkin Donuts, her kids changed their minds several times. Schwartz was “cranky,” she said, but the person behind the counter was “patient and kind, even going so far as to explain to my 5-year-old what constitutes a ‘jelly donut’ and what does not.”

Instead of focusing on her own crankiness, she chose to think of the employee’s kindness and how good it felt to pay her a compliment. That’s what she hopes Temple Emanuel members will do, too.

Synagogue members responded enthusiastically. While some stuck to complimenting service industry workers, “on everything from a smile to finding a lost wallet,” others expanded the challenge to compliment family and friends, Schwartz said.

“Our goal was to create a kindness explosion during a time when the blistering heat and lingering pandemic effects breed default grumpiness,” she said. “Our hope is that those receiving the compliments will then feel more inclined to pass along a compliment to someone in their lives and the kindness web will grow ever larger.” JN