Tuesday, April 26, 2016

113. Decency

I really like my job. I get to write. I like the people I work with. It uses a bunch of my different professional muscles. However, I sometimes see things that confound me: people leaving their trash when they come for meetings, people not saying hi and making eye contact, and people making a huge fuss over the littlest inconvenience.

I’m glad my parents taught me to pick up after myself. (Even though I may not always do it in my room.) They taught me to value and respect the work that janitors, cooks, and people behind the scenes do. Just because someone cleans up after you, it doesn’t mean you should do those common things that make their job a little easier.

I’m glad my parents taught me to be friendly, say hi, make eye contact, and at least pretend you’re interested in something someone is saying.

It relates back to common decency. That phrase has been tangled and captured by so many different groups, that it’s a cliche. Maybe common decency is the wrong phrase, I’m having trouble parsing it out. Maybe the better word is common respect. Respecting those that do jobs that we don’t see. Respecting those who make less money than you, or those who sound, or act different than you.

I stumbled with that today. I was up at the front desk helping with registration for a lunchtime seminar. About 50 people were registered, so our receptionist needed extra help. A steady stream of people were coming in. I smiled and gave people the same directions. But then a guy who had an Eastern European accent walked in. I thought he might be looking for one of the other organizations on our floor. (We routinely have people walk in and ask to see a lawyer) I greeted him and then he said he was here for the seminar. I didn’t expect that.

I had breakfast with a friend the other day and he told the story about how he happened to sit next to a CEO of a pretty big Minnesota corporation at a recent dinner event. While the guy was talkative and answered questions from other people at the table, he didn’t really ask any of his guests. My friend said you could kind of tell he wasn’t interested getting to know the other people at the table (who weren’t CEO’s). During the dinner part, a salad was served with a Raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The CEO must have missed that memo because he took it and poured it over his dessert cake.

I find that a pretty funny scenario. I wish we could all do more in admitting our mistakes. I wish our society didn’t have to depend so much on image or status. We’re all people who do dumb things. We also become lawyers, janitors, and everything in between.

I hope I always retain that aspect of wanting to help put away chairs after a meeting or saying hi and smiling to everyone who walks in your door. I hope my status is never defined by the things I own, but how I made people feel.

A lot of people like throw around the phrase, “Be a good person.” I don’t actually like that. It’s too broad. I prefer, Be a kind person. Be a person who thinks about others. Or Be someone who you would want to have dinner with.  

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