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The Now-Mandatory Standing Ovation

Have we taken the idea of how we express public appreciation too far?

I found myself mulling that question recently after attending a performance of the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band. The concert was uplifting, entertaining, and relaxing, especially since I enjoyed it in company with my wife and a couple of friends.

The band’s performance of “The Armed Services Medley” was especially inspiring, stirring feelings of patriotism and pride in the role of family members who had served in the various branches of our military. As you might know, the piece is a medley of the hymns of each military branch, and whenever the hymn of a particular branch in which one served, or a family member served, is played, one stands in that veteran’s or service person’s honor.

Our friends stood for the Air Force Hymn, honoring their grandson, who is training to fly a C-130 gunship. My wife stood for the Navy Hymn, honoring her father, who fought in World War II aboard the heavy cruiser U.S.S. St. Paul, and her brother, who served aboard an LST during the Vietnam era. And I stood for the Marines Hymn in memory of my nephew, Captain Justin Peterson, who was killed in Iraq.

But I was disconcerted when, at the end of the concert, the audience gave the band a standing ovation. It’s not that the band didn’t perform well; they certainly did. But was it worthy of the highest expression of appreciation an audience can deliver, a standing ovation?

I’ve noticed over the years a growing tendency for audiences to give standing ovations for every performance, regardless of quality. People seem to have forgotten (if they were ever taught) that standing ovations are to be reserved for truly exceptional, outstanding, over-the-top performances. We now seem to think, however, that every performance deserves such a response. Whenever it happens, my wife and I glance at each other and mouth the words, “Here’s our ‘mandatory!'” Or, as I overheard my friend say to his wife, “Here we go again!”

Maybe this situation stems from the idea that we must make everyone feel like a winner. We want to encourage people to do their best, so we stand, applauding wildly for even the most mundane, mediocre performances. We wouldn’t want to make the performers think we didn’t like the job they’ve done, would we? And in rewarding all performances with standing ovations, as though they were the best we’ve ever experienced, we devalue the truly great performances.

We’ve done the same thing in the matter of tipping. We’ve come to expect that for every service we receive we must reward it, regardless of its quality. A tip was once considered something extra given as a reward for outstanding, above-and-beyond service. Now it’s deemed to be the expected, even the employee’s right.

At some point, someone set the standard tip at 10 percent, but now it’s grown to 15 percent–at a bare minimum. And many businesses require that all tips of whatever amount be dumped into a collective pool, so that everyone, regardless of how well they’ve done their jobs, shares equally in the “take” for the evening.

I still don’t understand the math. People argue that with rising prices, wait personnel deserve the higher amounts. They ignore the fact that as prices rise, so does the amount of the tip, even though the percentage remains the same. For example, if the ticket totals $50, a 10-percent tip is $5. If, because of inflated prices, the ticket increases over time to $100 for the same food and/or service, the tip increases to $10, although the percentage has remained at 10 percent. Yet, we’re now expected to tip 15 percent. (It’s interesting that we don’t apply the same logic to our tithing in church or our charitable giving!)

But back to my original premise. We certainly should give honor and recognition when it is due, but we should not dishonor and devalue the recognition by making it the same for every performance regardless of merit or quality. Standing ovations should be rare occurrences, not the norm, the standard, or what is expected.

Call me a cantankerous curmudgeon if you like, but I’ll remain seated for “okay” performances and reserve my standing ovations for truly great performances. And I’ll tip according to how well I’m served, not according to some percentage externally imposed.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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