The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘courtesy’

LENNY

It was a very quiet apartment building.  The forty units were mostly occupied by older people whose children were grown and had started families of their own.  Of the seven or eight children who were being raised there, we had all come from families who believed that their children should learn how to behave in public as well as at home so there were never any youthful disturbances which might annoy the other residents.

One of my earliest memories was of the two men who were the Superintendent, Juan Espinoza who was an immigrant from Cuba and his assistant, Lenny.  While I’m sure that I knew Lenny’s surname as a child, I’ve long forgotten it.  But while I may have allowed Lenny’s last name to escape my memory, I’ll never forget the man himself.

Lenny was a gentle, kindly, Big Ben type of fellow, but without the facial hair.  In his day had he had the opportunity to go to college, he easily could have qualified as a member of the school’s football team, at least based on his impressive size.  But that wasn’t why people noticed Lenny.  He had an unusual physical condition which I have never seen again in anyone else.  On his face there were outgrowths of skin, some the size of exploded popcorn.  It was impossible not to notice them – and I couldn’t help myself from seeing them.

I remember being six or seven and going with my mother to the grocery store when Lenny was in the hallway, mopping the floor.  And I remember asking my mother, “Why does Lenny have those bumps on his face?”  Fortunately, I had the good taste to ask this question when we had exited the front door and were far out of Lenny’s hearing.

My mother responded, “I don’t know, dear.  But we must always remember neither to criticize people nor make fun of people because of the way they look.  They can’t help the way they’re born – but they can control the way they behave – just as you can.  And Lenny is always there whenever we need some help in the apartment and does his job very well. That’s what we should remember.”

Although as I mentioned, there were only a few kids in the building, there was one boy who, despite his parent’s best efforts, occasionally had an outburst and broke all the rules of how to be a civilized young person.  He constantly referred to Lenny as “The Freak”.  Of course, like most cowardly people who enjoy belittling others, he only said that when Lenny wasn’t present.  At least that was a blessing.  I could only imagine how hurt Lenny would have been had he heard that comment.  And, although most of the rest of us kids told him that his statement was rude and cruel he persisted in referring to Lenny with that term.

At some point I came to the conclusion, largely based on this one kid’s bad behavior, that boys were more likely to be bullies than girls.  That is until recently.

I was watching a clip on Fox News on the most recent Republican presidential debate which was aired on “The View,” a program that I have never watched.  Of the people who I presume are co-hosts, the only one I recognized was Whoopi Goldberg.  But I did recognize the same sort of vindictive and vile level of incivility that my fellow apartment dweller used against Lenny.  Except that this time it was directed toward Carly Fiorina.  What’s disturbing to me is less that these women acted as though they were vicious attack dogs than that they have an audience which apparently enjoys watching them trying to dismember another human being.

So I guess these folks missed the lesson that my mother taught me when I was a little kid.  And, come to think of it, I believe the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said pretty much the same thing in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

I HATE REPEATING MYSELF … BUT

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

The man who created the character, Sherlock Holmes was certainly on to something in this statement.  But what if you eliminated the impossible and the truth were not improbable but extremely obvious?  Wouldn’t it be clear that we should all endorse this gleefully?  You would think this is kind of a no-brainer.

And that brings me to the subject (once again) of texting while driving.

Here’s the impossible – passing laws that prohibit texting while driving and expecting that they will be obeyed or can be enforced.  One would think we wouldn’t need to pass this kind of law because an intelligent individual would realize that this puts herself at risk – not to mention the possible risk inflicted on innocent people who are in the neighborhood of her vehicle.

Recent stories about two young men, one who suffered a brain injury in Texas as a result of his texting while driving and the second about another in Washington state who narrowly escaped what might have been a fatal accident while engaged in the same activity prove that not all of us pay attention to the law – and even fewer exhibit any awareness of “common sense.”

Currently 39 states have laws on the books which prohibit texting while operating a motor vehicle.  What a waste of time, money and paper.  There is, as I have previously suggested an obvious and easy solution – and it will actually work.

By definition, if you are able to text from your phone you have a “smart phone.”  That smart phone can offer you GPS guidance – which means it knows where you are.  How hard would it be to modify those phones (if they don’t already have the capability) to be able to determine how fast you are moving while you are using it?

If your phone detects that you are moving at faster than 10 mph, if you attempt either to receive or send a text, both screens come up with a warning:  “Accepting (or Sending) this text will result in your being charged a $5.00 Service Fee for texting while driving.”  Hit both the recipient and sender at the same time – thereby educating two people at once.  I guarantee that after one or two monthly billing cycles, these auto-texters will reconsider their ways.

No need to involve the police in the process, diverting them from more important work they have to do.  And it’s not a matter of getting caught – because by your own actions you are convicting (and paying a fine) yourself.

Sounds like more government intervention in our lives.  Well, in a sense that is true.  But in 39 states the government has already intervened.  We are merely making their efforts efficient.

And what happens to the fees collected?  Use them to pay down the national debt or give them to a charity.  (I’m even willing to waive my 10% fee for thinking up this very obvious solution).

LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT

There are few of us who will, through some specific action, have the power to change the world in a dramatic way.  Considering the manner in which many of us approach life, that is probably a good thing.

But each of us does change the world every day – either by what we do or fail to do when we interact with other people.  I have written about this in several posts.

We can change the world through exercising courtesy, thoughtfulness and respect for those we meet along the way, lightening their day and their load.  Or we can change the world by interacting with our fellow human beings with rudeness, selfishness and disregard for their needs and add to their burden and to the storm clouds overhead.

Courtesy costs so little yet brings so much both to the donor and the recipient.  Selfishness costs so much, robbing us and those on whom we inflict it of a personal sense of self-worth.  Courtesy is its own reward and selfishness its own punishment.

A simple warm glance;  a touch extended in consolation or encouragement; a kind word.  These are little things.  But they truly do mean a lot.

THE PET STORE

Once again Gracie and I get to enjoy the company of the three goldens – this time for two weeks.  I picked them up on Sunday evening.  Their companion person, Barry has gone out of town, attending a family reunion and spending some time with his brother and his family.

Barry asked if I would be able to drop him off at the airport this morning and that worked out fine with my schedule.  We agreed on a time and as I set out for his house a little early I decided to stop to get some gasoline.

As I was filling the tank my phone rang.  It was Barry.  He was running late and asked me to give him an extra twenty to thirty minutes.  At that point I was only about ten minutes away.  So I decided to stop at Pet Smart which was on the way and pick up some additional treats for all four of the puppies.

I know the store quite well so I went directly to the treats aisle and got in line with my two items.  A lady whom I thought might be a few years older than I was returning some canned cat food which apparently her cat didn’t like and had substituted different cans of cat food in their place.  Because all of the 10 cans were different flavors, the return for each one had to be rung up separately.

(If you ever want to kill an extra fifteen minutes, follow me to the check out line.  I guarantee you that someone ahead of us will have a complicated problem).

As I was waiting to pay for my purchases, a man in a motorized wheelchair came into the store with his service dog.  She appeared to me to be a Labrador mixture and was wearing boots on all four paws to protect her from the heat of the concrete pavement.  The man appeared to be in his mid to late thirties and had lost his right arm above the elbow.

He powered his chair and his dog to the other cashier’s station and when she looked at him he asked, “Could you please tell me how much it would cost to give my dog a bath?”  The cashier who must be new since I am in the store frequently and didn’t recognize her said, “You have to ask the people in grooming,” and she pointed to the window just behind the checkout lines where the grooming department operated.  The man thanked her and started for the door that opened into the world of dog bathing and clipping.

I realized that with only his left hand which he used to operate his chair, he was going to have some difficulty opening the door and navigating both himself and his dog through it.  So I stepped out of line and offered to hold the door for him which he appreciated.

When I got back to my place a few seconds later, I noticed that the cashier who had directed him to the grooming department was going on break because she had turned off her light and was leaving her register.

The lady ahead of me still had a few cans to get refunded.   She turned to me and said, “That was very nice of you to help that man.  People don’t seem to be very thoughtful of others anymore.”  I thanked her and just said, “It’s really nothing special.  It’s just the way that I was raised.”

But I went on and said, “You know both my parents were in businesses where providing excellent customer service was important– and that is how I spent most of my working life as well.”

“If I were the cashier whom the man asked for help, seeing his condition and realizing that there were several groomers who were available to assist him, I would have picked up the telephone by my register and asked one of them to come out to help him, rather than make him navigate through a narrow doorway in  a wheelchair.”

I said that for two reasons.  First, that is what I would have done if I were that cashier.  Second, I hoped that my cashier would pick up on the idea should a similar situation ever occur to her – or perhaps she might mention the comment to her co-worker.

The lady completed her transaction and I mine and I headed over to Barry’s.  Traffic was light and despite our delay in starting out he had more than enough time to catch his plane.

When I got home, Gracie and the three goldens were, as is inevitably the case, at the door to greet me.  You would have thought that I had left them for two weeks rather than little more than an hour.  Barking and jumping and tail-wagging and face-licking were the order of the moment.  And I thought about the lady’s comment at the store.  “People don’t seem to be very thoughtful of others anymore.”  Sadly, I have to agree with her.

I guess that’s why I’ve always surrounded myself with those who truly are my best friends – my dogs.  We could learn a lot about the way we should treat each other from the way that they treat us.

MUSIC HATH POWER …

It’s Sunday – even here in Las Vegas.  We are currently enjoying a much needed break from the sweltering heat that made its way here and across much of the country.  We’ve even had two days of substantial rain and last night I stood in the dog park with Gracie and enjoyed the coolness as the droplets soaked me through and through.  (I think Gracie was less impressed with this than I was).

So even though the casinos are saying farewell to their weekend visitors, many of whom said farewell to their stash of cash while they stayed here, it is important to me to try to keep things in perspective and try to set aside some time away from that which is worldly and direct myself toward higher things.

On Sundays. as part of that discipline, I try to do some contemplative thinking.  That may take the form of reading or it may incorporate listening to music or a combination of both.  But this was a busy Sunday.  I had a few grocery items I needed to purchase for the dinner I was making and a car battery to replace.  Car batteries in the desert have about the same life expectancies as fruit flies.

So as I was coming home with a new battery installed and my groceries on the passenger seat, I had rolled down the windows as it was still in the mid-80’s and there was a nice breeze blowing.  As I waited for the light to change, a man pulled up next to me in a large, new SUV which obviously had a very high-powered radio installed.  He was playing rap music and I’m sure that the volume was sufficient that it could have been heard in our state capital, Carson City nearly 450 miles away..

One of the things you learn when you live in Las Vegas is that we have some of the longest street lights in the world.  When I first moved here I wondered whether some of them at which I had been stopped ever changed.  I now know better.  They do change eventually – but in this case the wait seemed interminable.

I thought about rolling up the windows – but I thought that would have been as rude as the driver’s behavior in subjecting me to this “music”.  So I waited somewhat impatiently for the magic green disk to appear on the signal.  It finally did, but not before I had heard more than my fair share of M*ther F*cker and B*tch.

I realize that my classical music traditions would seem as strange to the driver of this car as his music does to me.  Well, there’s no accounting for taste – or lack of it.  But since music has been such an important influence in my life I can’t help but feel that the kind we choose to hear has a significant impact on how we see the world and how we treat each other.  Or perhaps the way that we view ourselves and the world determines our choice in music.

Somehow I don’t see a person who listens to music which through denigration and vulgarity demeans others as a person who is likely to be one of those “touchy-feely” types.  I could be wrong.  But I believe that we are what we eat – and that is true of the food we consume, the literature we read and the music to which we listen.

I do know that for me music is a refuge.  It brings out the best in me and comforts me when I am troubled.  And this being Sunday, I thought I would share the hymn which I played when I came home from my excursion.  It is of American origin, probably dating from the mid-19th century and was composed by one of those best know authors, Anonymous.

I played it several times just to unwind from the traffic light episode.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have over many years.

THE GARBAGE DUMP

Chicago has a number of outstanding parks which provide a welcome breath of openness to the vertical sprawl of the city.  I was fortunate that I lived across the street from one of those, Jackson Park.

The park ran through a good portion of the southeast side of the city and incorporated the last remaining building from the Columbian Exposition, now re-named the Museum of Science and Industry.  It was the usual place that I took my dogs for their daily walks.

Because the park extended to Lake Michigan it was a popular venue for people to come and enjoy their weekends.  Picnickers appreciated the cool breezes during the summer and the well-maintained lawns that the Chicago Park District kept up with great diligence.

It was always difficult for me as a resident during the summers trying to find a parking space because of the inflow of people who came to the park.  But I learned to deal with it.  After all, these were public parks and I understood that we needed to make accommodation for all who wanted to enjoy them.

Some of those who visited on the weekend found their own solution to the parking issue.  They simply pulled their vehicles onto the lawn of the parks and left them there while they picnicked.  The fact that the city had installed “handicapped sidewalks” made access very easy as there were no curbs to surmount.  Of course, the city also posted signs that said, “No vehicles are permitted on park grounds,” but those went ignored.

Having your car directly by your picnic area was helpful in two ways.  It made it easy to unload the food the visitors had brought with them.  And for those who didn’t own a boom box they could simply crank up their car radio for their listening pleasure.  Generally the boom boxes blaring their “Gangsta rap” drowned out the relatively puny car radios.  The weekends always provided the visitors an opportunity to engage in a battle of “dueling cacophonies.”

The city had placed a large number of trash cans throughout the park, none of them more than perhaps twenty feet away from anyone enjoying a summer’s al fresco dining experience.  They largely went unused.  When I would take my dogs for their Sunday morning walk before church I had to watch carefully because of the debris that was left behind, littering the entire park within a few feet of the empty garbage cans.

On these walks I always saw a  few people carrying large plastic bags and wearing gloves, despite the heat.  They would sift through the trash laying on the ground in search of the valuable aluminum beer and soda cans which were the treasure they sought.

In searching the picnickers’ refuse they tended to spread it out even further through the park.  I had to be extremely watchful that neither of the dogs picked up any of the bones that lay all around.

The trash pickers returned early Monday, before the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation and employees of the Parks Department came through and cleaned up the mess that had been created over the previous two days.  By Monday evening the park was once again immaculate – ready for the next weekend’s assault.

After seeing the same scenario repeat itself summer’s weekend after summer’s weekend over many years my sense of anger about this callous behavior slowly faded away into acceptance that it was going to happen.  The picnickers never disappointed me.

I guess it’s old-fashioned but  I was taught to respect other people and their property – and the parks were the property of all of us who lived in Chicago.  We had laws prohibiting parking in the parks; the City had done its job in providing receptacles for trash; and there was a curfew in the parks which generally was ignored by at least several hours – sometimes until the early morning.

If each of us took personal responsibility for our actions and thought about their implications on others, we wouldn’t need most of the rules and regulations we carry on our law books.  I’ve said before that it’s impossible to legislate morality – or even acceptable behavior.  I learned good behavior from my family, not a book of statutes.

It was the luck of the draw – but I guess I was fortunate.  Apparently many others didn’t fare so well.  Perhaps they had a different game plan handed to them at birth and through their upbringing.  Maybe they think that their mission in life is to turn all the beautiful spots on earth into a garbage dump.

They seem to be well on their way to accomplishing their goal.

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YOUR COMMENTS ARE IMPORTANT

First, let me thank each and every person who has stopped by, read one or more of my posts and especially those who have subscribed to this blog.  Sometimes it’s hard for a writer to know if there is anyone actually reading this material.  But the most convincing evidence of that is the fact that many of you have taken the time to critique a particular post by leaving a comment.

Your comments are important to me.  They not only keep me on my toes, but they have provided me some ideas which I have incorporated in later posts.  A recent comment left by a reader is, in fact, the reason for writing this post.

This is our exchange from the post https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/an-open-letter-to-president-obama-on-fathers-day/

nearlynormalized said:

June 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

You must understand–BPT (as told to me my my African American friends—”Black People Time.” What’s the rush?

I responded:

I heard it as CPT (Colored People’s Time) and either term is demeaning.  It implies that some people, for whatever reason, should be held to a lesser standard because otherwise, they’re not good enough to compete.  If that isn’t racism and paternalism I don’t know what is.

This exchange grew out of a comment that I had made in the post regarding the fact that if there is one thing which has been consistent about the Obama presidency it is that he is consistently late.

In earlier posts I discussed tardiness several times.  I know that in grammar school I was expected to be on time.  It was so important that children who came to school late received “tardy slips”.  Apparently our educators believe that you can’t learn anything if you aren’t present to absorb the information.

Then there was my father.  He taught me that being on time was respectful of the person with whom you were meeting.  I carried this lesson with me through life.  It caused me to change dentists when the new one I had selected kept me waiting for one hour for each of my three appointments with her.  My thinking was that if she weren’t competent at scheduling her patients, how good was the quality of service she provided me?

Let’s consider this from another standpoint – that of the farmer who gets his seed planted late – and then harvests it late as well.  What kind of crop is he going to have available to sell?  A poor one.  Timeliness matters to the farmer and to those of us who expect these hard-working people to do their job in a timely and efficient matter so that when we go to the produce section of our supermarkets there is actually something there for us to buy.

I believe that timeliness is “mental body language.”  We unconsciously manifest our attitude toward those with whom we have dealings by how we respect or how we disrespect the value of their time.  It is an outward manifestation of our inner view of life.

Let’s consider this in terms of President Obama’s administration.  After three and one half years we have ample evidence to support this suggestion.

When the President took office he was faced with filling important government posts.  Most previous Presidents accomplished that within two months of being sworn in.  It took Obama six months.

The President was faced with a crisis – it was called unemployment.  The person who was capable of prioritizing should have understood that it was the most important issue on the table (and still is).

The first two years of President Obama’s administration were spent wrangling over producing a healthcare bill which the vast majority of Americans oppose and producing Dodd/Frank, a bill whose implications are so unclear that businesses are afraid to hire.   The result is that we still have an official unemployment rate of 8.2% and the rate among African-Americans, the constituency who voted for the President nearly unanimously, has one twice as high.

Whether you accept my logic on punctuality may depend on whether you agree with Shakespeare’s statement, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”  But I can tell you that when I cast my vote this November, I am going to give it to a person whom I believe has respect for me and for all people in this country.

And I am going to cast that vote early.

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