Tag Archives: courtesy

reverse

The Best Advice So Far - reverse - one yellow rubber ducky swimming the opposite direction in a line of black rubber ducks

We’ve all seen those bumper stickers:

HOW’S MY DRIVING?
555-123-4567

Ever called the number to report that the driver is, in fact, currently driving respectfully and obeying all traffic laws?

After all, the sticker doesn’t say, “Call if I’m driving unsafely or otherwise annoying you.” Yet isn’t that how we tend to read it?

(Yes, I really do think about these things.)

“I want to speak to a manager.”

“Let me talk to your supervisor.”

“I’m going to email your teacher.”

In my experience, these statements are rarely followed by …

“… to let them know what a great job you (or they) are doing.”

It seems to me that perhaps many of us have become naturals when it comes to complaining, while becoming more and more uncomfortable with giving praise where praise is due.

In my last post, where I wrote about crying during a late workout, I mentioned incidentally that there was only one other person in the gym at the time: the overnight employee on duty.

Well, his name is Joe. Let me tell you a bit about him.

If you’ve ever worked the night shift, then you know …


the good old days

The Best Advice So Far: the good old days - old-fashioned soda jerk offering chocolate ice cream cone

Ah, the good old days.

The simpler ways of bygone eras have become an indelible part of our collective consciousness, stirring a sense of wistfulness at their passing, whether we actually lived through them or not.

Neighbors leaned from open windows or across picket fences to chat, and thought nothing of asking to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. Newcomers were welcomed with a jingle of the doorbell and a proffered platter of freshly made cookies or a Bundt cake. And it was assumed that all were invited to the backyard barbecue.

During trips to the local grocer or druggist, owners and customers greeted each other by name, never in too much of a hurry to ask about the children or that recent vacation. And partings were peppered with give-my-best-tos.

Young people helped the elderly across busy intersections, offered to carry their bag a few blocks, and climbed trees to rescue their kittens.

Sinewy men slung a tattooed arm around their buddy’s neck as they crowded together around diner booths — some sitting, some standing with one foot propped on the edge of a seat — swapping outrageous and animated stories with other guys from town.

People took leisurely strolls down shady streets, played chess in the park, had picnics on Saturdays and impromptu dance parties on the beach. No one dreamed of whizzing by a kid’s lemonade stand without stopping.

Friends threw dress-up dinner parties, and guests offered small gifts upon arrival, as well as following up with a thank-you card by mail a few days later. Just as likely might be a game night during which participants played Twister, eventually collapsing into a heap upon one another and laughing until their cheeks hurt.

Wholesome stories and images abound, combining to weave a sort of glorious fairy tale — one continuous happily-ever-after.

Of course, we tend to overlook …


walls

The Best Advice So Far: walls — 1950s subway riders crowded and ignoring one another

Today, I saw a snail
on the sidewalk in front of our house.
And I thought, I too am like that snail.
I build a defensive wall around myself, a “shell” if you will.
But my shell isn’t made out of a hard, protective substance.
Mine is made out of tin foil and paper bags.

~Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, SNL

Growing up with three siblings, all close in age, there were frequent and often ongoing sibling rivalries. As such, we learned tricks for being in close proximity while simultaneously erasing the offending party or parties from existence. And mind you, we didn’t have customized media to aid us. We had to be creative when it came to ignoring one another:

Holding an issue of TV Guide up to one side of our face like a blinder on a horse while watching television, so as to block out the person sitting beside us on the couch.

Placing three cereal boxes in half-hexagonal formation at breakfast time, to build a fortress around ourselves that would hide us from the enemy who sat kitty-corner from us at the table, arms-length away.

Car trips were the one time when shielding ourselves became almost impossible, especially as we got older and our bodies grew.

First, with four of us, your status during the trip was immediately determined by which seat you wound up managing to get for yourself. It was a fight to the death for a window seat. But eventually, a tight-lipped parent eventually threatened us with “that look” that meant just get in the car already (somehow oblivious to the obvious stakes); and whoever wound up getting the windows would turn and …

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after the vote

after the vote - empty voter stations - The Best Advice So Far

Let me start by making this clear: just as I have never told anyone how I’ve voted, I am not going to talk politics here. But I do have something I believe is vital to say to each of us today (including myself).

*****

I played soccer for eight years in high school and college. I usually played fullback and was a grass-in-the-teeth kind of player. I remember once being pulled from a game after my leg got mangled. I needed help to even get up and hobble off the field. More than the considerable pain, though, I felt anger. I shouted over and over at the coach, “Don’t you pull me from this game! I can play!”

I loved soccer. But, as contradictory as it may seem, I hated (and still do hate) competition. You see, in every competition, there are winners and losers. And that was always a conflict for me, being the highly empathetic sort.

After each game, it was more or less required that each team line up facing one another in single file and then walk by each member of the other team. Typically, you’d low-five, saying, “Good game, good game, good game…” in rapid succession. But most of the time, you knew neither team meant it. It’s what passed for “good sportsmanship” and was supposed to teach some lesson or other.

For me, on the other hand, it was never quite that easy.

If we lost, I took it personally. I should’ve done better. At the same time, I wanted to encourage every downtrodden member of my team, or help talk others down from their adrenaline-fueled rage. And yet, I also truly wanted to congratulate individual members of the other team who had played well and won.

If we won, we would jump up and down in a close-knit huddle cheering, or smack one another on the back harder than we knew was necessary. However, I also felt keenly aware of the losing team members and knew how dejected and disappointed they felt. So I’d pull myself from the next teammate’s growling embrace and head on over to specific players on the other team, telling them what I admired about their game or a particular play they’d made.

*****

Last night, an important decision was made.

Upon learning the result of that decision, half of the people I love and care about began celebrating, filled with a sense of relief and hope for the future.

The other half of the people I love and care about were shocked, mourning, fearful — even visibly and uncontrollably shaking and weeping in panic.

Statistically, the above scenario more or less sums up our country today. About 50% are celebrating, and 50% are terrified.

Had the race gone the other way …

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riddles

riddles - silver and gold gears interlocked and turning - The Best Advice So Far

I was driving recently with my cousin’s son, Seth. He’s 19, but having lived with a mentally and physically ill mother until her recent death, there are some areas in which Seth is still quite “young.” Until now, he’s never paid a bill and did not know how to write a check. It’s been a steep learning curve. Yet I find most aspects of Seth’s greenness refreshing, to be honest. It’s as if he’s seeing much of the world for the first time.

As we drove between offices, settling yet more paperwork in the wake of his mother’s passing, Seth was checking social media from his phone. Somehow, he wound up coming across a riddle and read it to me. You may have heard it:

A doctor and a boy went fishing. The boy is the doctor’s son, but the doctor is not the boy’s father. How can this be?

After a mere few moments, Seth quirked his mouth quizzically and said, “That doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible. Do you get it?”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m more about teaching a man to fish than handing him a fish. In fact, Chapter 21 of The Best Advice So Far has this central advice:

THE BEST ADVICE SO FAR: Asking the right kind
of questions works better than making statements.

There are, of course, times when a straightforward reply is best. In this case, however, with a young man who suddenly finds himself needing to approach life’s problems with a new level of independence, it seemed the process of solving the riddle might be more beneficial than simply impressing him with my own ability to arrive at the answer.

The Best Advice So Far: Asking the right kind of questions works better than making statements.

I glanced quickly at him out of the corner of my eye as he waited in expectation of my reply.

“Seth, you just told me that ‘it’s impossible’; but you also asked if I could solve it. You can’t believe both of those things at the same time: that it’s impossible to solve and that I might be able to solve it.”

I let that sit for a few seconds. “I guess you’re right,” he conceded sheepishly. “But I don’t see how it could be true.”

“You only spent about 5 seconds before you decided your own idea was right and that the riddle must be wrong. But many times in life — most times, in fact — the first perspective we have on something isn’t the right one. At least it’s not entirely right.”

“How’d you get so smart?” he asked.

“I’ve lived a while and paid attention,” I said with a smirk and raised eyebrow, “which you can do just as well I can.” I wasn’t going to let him sidetrack me that easily. “So back to that riddle. First rule of problem-solving is …

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say my name

say my name - The Best Advice So Far - graffiti big mouth on brick wall

When’s the last time you had a real honest-to-goodness “aha!” moment? For me, it was quite recently. It was so simple that I wondered how I’d missed it up until now. And yet it was so profound that I actually felt the perspective shift happen and knew at once that it would change things moving forward.

I don’t know if you’ll find it as revelatory as I did or not. I suspect some of you will. For others, perhaps, it will serve as a timely reminder of something you’ve merely forgotten for too long.

If you’ve read my book, The Best Advice So Far, or if you’ve been reading along on this blog for any length of time, you know that I devote a good deal of focus to the importance of using people’s names often, whether it be with the cashier at the convenience store, with the other patrons working out around you at the gym – or even with sketchy neighbors. Most of my stories of cool personal interactions with strangers begin with our having exchanged names. I mentioned in one post that I make a point to ask homeless people their names (just as I would with anyone else), and recounted having met one woman who hadn’t heard her own name spoken in so long, she’d actually forgotten what it was.

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hope floats

hope floats - cruise ship at sunset

For those avid readers of The Best Advice So Far: the blog, you’ll have noticed that there was no Friday post last week. This is because I was out to sea, unplugged from WiFi and Internet access, as I headed out from Miami to the Bahamas as part of my younger brother’s wedding celebration.

As a side note, I should tell you that, as much as I enjoy digital connection and writing, the break did my soul good. You should give it a whirl sometime. However, my focus in this post will not be on making room for silence in your life or how important it is not to let technology interfere with our human interactions. Those are both important topics. But today, I want to let you in on an intriguing human phenomenon I witnessed during this oceanic excursion.

We arrived in Miami on a Saturday evening. My sister-in-law-to-be picked us up at the airport, where we promptly got lost in construction and confusing signage, turning a 7-minute ride to the hotel into nearly an hour-long “adventure.”

The hotel was a tall gray building, standing out above the downtown Miami skyline. There was some kind of circus in town, as well as a concert by a major artist and a prominent bike race. It was mayhem. There was no parking at the hotel, even though it had been paid for.

Once we checked in, our small traveling group was tired and hungry (they didn’t even have little bags of pretzels or nuts on our flight). But feeling frazzled, most of them didn’t feel like hunting down a restaurant; so they just made their way down the block the multi-level grocery store and decided on grab-and-go “meals” they would eat back in their rooms.

Some of the wedding party had already arrived and were out and about. Others had to be picked up in shifts as they arrived mere hours apart back at the airport.

I myself wasn’t particularly fazed by all of this. I enjoyed the change of scenery and multicultural population of Miami. But in addition to interacting with strangers on a regular basis, I’m also an observer. And what I noticed was that people seemed very guarded. The streets were crowded with people, but even huddled at crosswalks, elbow to elbow, people went to great lengths not to look one another in the eye or greet each other – not even with a silent nod or smile.

Some of my party hid for the rest of the evening in their rooms, exclaiming that they’d been “stared down” by the “sketchy” and “scary” people on the streets. Constant stern reminders were doled out regarding keeping money and valuables in your room (hidden well, because “these people will steal it right from your room”).

The next day, Sunday, I made plans to meet up with an author-friend I’d connected with online. As I waited for him to pick me up, I was chided curbside by a relative stranger who sucked his teeth and questioned my judgment and warned me about “these people down here,” expressing in ominous tones, and with much wagging of head, that I’d likely be kidnapped or chopped into little pieces and hid in a dumpster, and just what did I think I was doing?

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