I appreciated your kindness when I waited on you Saturday when you noticed the customer ahead of you had upset me. Today, it’s rare anybody notices much less cares. What I liked most was the question you asked: What did I think the biggest difference in people today was? Nobody’s asked me what I thought in a while. After forty years in customer service, I’m retiring and the answer’s simple. Folks have no courtesy. When I started, the attitude was “Please, can you help me?” Now, it’s all “gimme, gimme, gimme” and “give it to me now, instantly, right away.” No “thank you” or “please.” It’s disheartening and sad and I don’t want to do it anymore. So thank you, Olive, for bothering to even ask and for your thank you and please. It meant a lot.
The company you work for will, indeed, have big shoes to fill when you retire. Yes, the man before me was inexcusably rude. What I loved most was the softness that spread across your tense face and the twinkle that returned to your eye the moment I asked if you were okay. We don’t always get moments like that when a simple hello or empathetic comment can make someone else’s day better, so believe me, I got a lot more out of meeting you than I imagine you did from meeting me.
I know exactly what you’re referring to and you’re right. One of the regrettable earmarks of our current culture is the sense of entitlement and arrogance too many people exhibit when transacting and consuming. We’ve moved from a time of character ethics and consumer relationships to situational ethics and impersonal transactions. We’ve become more and more disconnected the more we’ve become connected to our technology toys and tools and communicate – if one can still call it that – with others through text and email rather than one-on-one, face-to-face exchanges or handwritten, thoughtful letters.
While I’ve lived through this sea change in basic manners and appropriate behavior in our culture, I can’t recall exactly when things seismically shifted. I suspect things began to fall apart in the 60s when shock became vogue, and deliberately defacing courtesy and polite language became cool, young and hip. Then, after that, the downgrade of modesty and privacy began as sex became rampantly casual and being discreet or reserved was dubbed stupid and uptight.
Once rap music, pants down to there, and sex tapes began to break down the remaining barriers of social propriety, all bets were off on displays in the public eye, followed by reality TV that has now accomplished a good deal of the rest, making mundane, unimportant and trivial everyday acts and people famous, rich and influential. Today the more you show, speak, reveal and display, the more acclaim you seem to get, and fifteen minutes of fame has been stretched in some cases to thirty.
And in perfect example of what’s gone wrong at the extreme end of spectrum, last night, in an annual Pumpkin celebration in the college town of Keene, NH, http://is.gd/zlbAqx, an out-of-control group ended up trashing the town, forcing the police to get involved and leaving behind a ruined festival. This isn’t fun. This is downright vandalism. Criminal behavior. Really? Tearing down light poles, trying to upturn cars, burning things in the street. Fun?
Manners and courtesy start with respect.
There’s no substitute for manners; for simple, thoughtful courtesies and gestures that include “please” and “thank you.” So listen up, folks, this involves all of us. Take a moment to consider how you pass through your days and how you treat or ignore all of the folks who pump your gas, deliver your dinner in a restaurant or sell you the ticket or the strawberries or the coffee.
Choosing to change things up is so simple. Take a moment to make eye contact, even smile and say “thank you” as if your life depended on it. Take an extra moment, on the phone or in person, to ask the person who’s job it is to serve you how their day’s going or what the weather might be half-way around the world. You’ll be amazed at the smile you’ll elicit by just taking a second to acknowledge a stranger who’s been a nameless, faceless entity all day long.
Moments like that give back so much more than they take. It might even put a lift in your step and a smile on your face when you realize you’ve just been a really nice person for no reason except you decided that’s who you chose to be.