top of page

Bad reviews deserve five stars

We do no favors by showing misplaced compassion

If memory serves, it was the spring of 1980, the last day of my class in introductory computer programming.

“Because I’m a visiting professor,” the instructor announced, “the university does not require a course evaluation.”

An audible murmur of disappointment rippled through the room. Of all the teachers I’d encountered through my college career, I couldn’t remember another as inept as Ms. Whatever-her-name-was. The rest of the class evidently agreed.

“But I would like your feedback,” she continued, “So I’m passing out my own evaluation form.” In an instant, frustrated disappointment gave way to vindictive glee. Because I was sitting on the aisle, all the papers in my row and in the seats above passed through my fingers.

I shouldn’t have looked at the scores, but temptation got the better of me. Flipping quickly through the pages, I didn’t see any rating higher than 2 on a five-point scale.

Surprisingly, out in the big, wide world, this reaction is much less common. According to Professor John Horton of New York University’s school of business, Uber and Lyft passengers frequently award three- to five-star reviews for one- or two-star service.


The research shines an admirable light on human nature. We might not have enjoyed our ride, but we don’t want to endanger the driver’s livelihood. We’d rather give a rating that’s undeserved than risk imperiling another person’s job.

But on the darker side, our apparent altruistic actually encourages social irresponsibility.

Before Uber and Airbnb started an entrepreneurial revolution, few believed that the innovative models could ever succeed. And yet they did. We readily invite strangers into our homes and our cars, or accept invitations into theirs, knowing absolutely nothing about them – nothing, that is, except the ratings and comments from other patrons. It’s the knowledge that hosts and guests alike will be publicly evaluated that assures us of being treated like William and Kate at the Waldorf Astoria rather than Janet Leigh at the Bates Motel.

By failing to critique substandard drivers, passengers undermine the system and subject future passengers to similarly inadequate service.


Back when I taught high school, students frequently complained about my strict grading standards. “Why do we even need grades?” they occasionally asked. “Why can’t you just trust us to do our best?”

I relished the opportunity to launch into one of my favorite polemics:

“We can do that,” I began. “But we’ll have to change our name to Self-Esteem High School. That means you’ll only be qualified for acceptance to Self-Esteem University, and that will gain you admittance only to Self-Esteem Medical School, Self-Esteem Law School, or Self-Esteem School of Engineering.

“And if you’re okay with that, let me ask you this: the next time you go in for surgery, do you want the doctor with a degree from Self-Esteem Medical School? Do you want the attorney from Self-Esteem Law School defending you in court? Do you want to fly in a plane or drive over a bridge designed by a graduate of Self-Esteem School of Engineering?”

Case closed.

King Solomon teaches: Open rebuke out of hidden love is true good. Faithful are the wounds from one’s beloved, but kisses from an enemy are enticing.

It can be as difficult to give rebuke as to receive it. But allowing the lazy, the incompetent, or the misguided to continue confidently in the error of their ways does no service to them or to those they harm and inconvenience through their moral blindness.

Giving rebuke is an art, one in which the soft touch of love guides the firm hand of correction. By holding ourselves and others to reasonable standards, we contribute to a society in which all of us are safer, happier, and more successful.

Published by Jewish World Review

49 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page