Thursday, May 15, 2014

500 Words: Being Nice to People

One of the most important lessons my parents ever taught me was to be nice to the people who cook your food and who clean up after you. I don't think they ever told that to me directly, but I saw them practice it during their careers as educators. I remember going with my dad to work one day when I was very young and he talked and joked with one of the lunch ladies. They had an obvious rapport. He also talked a lot with one of the janitors. There was no sense of status or, "I make more money than you." It was my dad being nice to someone who was probably under paid and under appreciated.

My mom was the same way with the staff at Wyoming elementary, where she was a teachers aid. I remember that a room was locked for our Cub Scout meeting, but she was able to track down the janitor, Jim and she got him to unlock the door. She'd probably had numerous conversations with him. I wonder if that same thing would have happened if she didn't know him. I'm guessing it would not have happened.

Last night I did the food order for work. It's a thankless job that requires handling a fair amount of money and making sure orders are right. (That in itself stresses me out.) We had an order that came to about ninety-four dollars, but something like only a three dollar tip. I thought that was ridiculous. The guy (who I later found out was notorious for undertipping) said, when I asked people to chip in an extra buck, "Oh don't you know, the new guy is supposed to cover it?" I gave him a look that said, "Really?" First off, we're punishing the guy who was delivering our food and second, I'm not a big fan of hazing or rookie pranks because I don't make a lot of money to begin with.

I’ve always been curious about hazing. I understand rituals and ceremonies (I am Catholic after all), but the idea of making someone do something hurtful or damaging for the sake of acceptance seems so weird to me. Why can’t we just be nice to people? Why can’t we just accept people for who they are? Shouldn’t a firm handshake and a nice discussion about the latest episode of Mad Men suffice for acceptance?

I was talking with a priest friend of mine the other day. We were walking in Davis Square and there was a man sitting on a ledge. He obviously didn’t have a job and may have lived in shelter. He didn’t look clean, but the father stopped talked with him for a little bit. Turns out that they were both from Waltham and somehow shared a last name from a distant relative. I’m guessing the guy was ignored for most of the day and lots of people just scoffed at him. However, he had a smile on his face after we talked. I think a tear in his eye as well.

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