Everyday People

Posted on July 10, 2009


I was reading through my friends’ feeds on Facebook when I came across a link one of them posted. The article asserts 4 principles of why it’s good to “be cool to the pizza delivery dude.” It reminded me of something Lee Marvin once said, that if he had “any appeal at all it was to the fellow who takes out the garbage.”

When I was in the military, I developed an idea that we should respect people who do jobs we can’t or won’t do. I respect sanitation workers. Not only do they have a tough job, but life in cities would be impossible without them. They deal with garbage and filth so I don’t have to. The same goes for water & sewage workers. Even the linemen from the power company do a job that I wouldn’t do (I get vertigo). These people, together with many others like police, firemen, and other emergency services workers, make our civilized lives possible. So yes – I yield to them in traffic, slow down to pass them safely, let them cut in front of me in line, and generally try to look out for them. I have a Bronze Star, but they’re the real heroes.

Working in customer service was what really made me aware of the service industry, and the people in it. I, like them, dealt directly with customers everyday. I, like them, shouldered the burden of facing people who were irate over things I didn’t control. Although I had always tipped people where appropriate, this new awareness made me focus not only on tipping, but on making eye contact, smiling, and speaking directly to whoever was helping me. I made a point of saying “thank you,” and meaning it. It’s kind of sad how many food services workers find that disconcerting.

As a side note to you single people out there: How you treat people says a lot about you, and your date is paying attention. If you want your date to think you’re a nice person, be nice to everyone.

In the process of appreciating service people and showing respect to people in jobs that I don’t want, I learned a lot about humility, empathy, and equality. I found myself correcting my friends when they got annoyed in restaurants, and suggesting alternatives to building a relationship with the staff. I wasn’t used to being an advocate, but I fell into the role. Sometimes I got rewarded (the delivery guys at the Pagliacci’s Pizza in Wallingford occasionally brought us free pizzas), but that wasn’t the point. The point was respecting other people.

This post isn’t about me being a saint, because I’m far from that. Rather, I want to suggest that what my mother said turned out to be true: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. I’ve seen too many people get wrapped up in their job titles and forget how to make the coffee when they take the last cup, or how to clean up after themselves, or even how to answer their own phones. I once failed to stop a promotion program from going through because the person who approved it was a VP, and I was merely an assistant brand manager. Turned out his job title was pretty meaningless. He was ignorant of the terms of the contract involved, earned himself a reprimand, and got a breach of contract letter sent to a corporate partner. If he could have looked past his job title, he might have made a few phone calls to check his position and actions, and we might have avoided all that.

I’ll close today with one more Lee Marvin quote: “Ah, stardom! They put your name on a star in the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard and you walk down and find a pile of dog manure on it. That tells the whole story, baby.”