Stimulus Pause Response

As motels go, it wasn’t horrible. It was the $50 a night option on Priceline, with a 7.9 guest satisfaction rating. It was a national chain. The water was hot, the room clean, and the water pressure was lovely. As someone who used to travel a great deal, I can assure you I’ve paid much more for much less.

But almost from the beginning, things began to go wrong. Someone was meeting us there, and he arrived a few minutes before we did. He tried to use the lobby bathroom, but it was locked, for guest use only, and was told he could go use the bathroom at the gas station across the busy highway.

All the lights were off in the lobby, with just one light on over the registration desk. The vending machine, the ice machine, the “business center” computer desk – all had large “Out of Order” signs.

The website had promised a “deluxe continental breakfast”, which in practice consisted of sugary yogurt, a selection of 4 small blueberry muffins, and some of the smallest Red Delicious apples I have ever seen, an apple whose name is half accurate in description and which has the distinction of being exactly no one’s favorite apple variety. Whatever continent it is where they eat breakfast this way, I want to die having not visited there.

The desk clerk was rude and curt. The housekeeping staff did not clean our room, and when we asked, we were told that because of COVID shortages, they no longer provided daily service – which makes sense, and wouldn’t have been a big deal, had someone told us. Instead, we came back to the room after a long day, ready to take a shower and had no clean towels, and were out of toilet paper. There were multiple clerks who worked various shifts, and none of them had English as their primary language, and they each blamed whatever the current misunderstanding was on the lack of English skills of the other clerk.

The morning we were to check out, I had gone to the front desk to ask for clean towels, and was told I had to bring my dirty ones to the front desk to turn in before they would give me clean ones, so they would know I wasn’t stealing the towels. It was frustrating, going up and down the stairs, over and over, each time being told you hadn’t done it right, or to get called a thief.

None of it was horrible – but each offense built on the previous one. While Renee was in the shower, I decided to leave an honest, if frank, review. The last time we had been in town, we had stayed at the motel next door and had an amazing experience. I thought people should know.

I opened up my computer and opened a text file to compose the review. I was scathing. Frank. Brutal. I poured my three days of micro-frustrations into this review. The longer I typed, recounting the various frustrations, the more heated I got. I decided I was going to wait until I got home to post it – I didn’t want to leave a bad review before we checked out, in case there was some sort of retaliation they could take.

We were checked out and on to have lunch with a friend before heading home when my phone rang. It was the hotel owner. His accent made understanding him difficult.

“Are you checked out? Are you done,” he asked?

I assured him I was and braced myself for whatever he was about to tell me had gone wrong. Instead, he just told me that we had left Renee’s camera bag, which conservatively contained $1000 worth of photography gear, in the room, but not to worry, because he would put it behind the desk and we could come by and pick it up any time.

Well, crap. How do you leave a bad review for a guy who saved you a thousand dollars? For a guy who was looking out for you? For a guy who went above and beyond?

We swung back by the motel on the way out of town, retrieved the bag, and hit the road. That night, when we got home, I deleted the poisonous review I had not yet posted, and for not the first time, remembered words I had read long ago in an article by the psychologist Rollo May:

Freedom is the individual’s capacity to know that he is the determined one, to pause between stimulus and response and thus to throw his weight, however slight it may be, on the side of one particular response among several possible ones.

To pause between stimulus and response, and to choose one response among several possible ones.

Imagine if I had posted the review while she was in the shower. Imagine how horrible I would feel knowing I had trashed this man’s hotel and livelihood – this man who looked out for my family and would save our stuff.

Virtually every time I have done something I later regretted, taken action I would wish I could undo, said words I could never pull back, it was because I did not take sufficient notice of the power of the pause between stimulus and response, and thus chose my response poorly.

When you step on a dog’s tail, the dog may lash out, instinctively, and bite you. There is stimulus, and then response. But as humans, we have the privilege of being able to insert a pause between the stimulus and the response.

And in that pause, we can find both power and freedom.

2 thoughts on “Stimulus Pause Response”

Comments are closed.