My brother is pretty smart. Some would call him a social genius. I am one of those. Being the older sibling, over the years he would often drop small pearls of wisdom, and I as the little brother would stop whatever I was doing and would bend down and pick them up.
They were gems like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” “Even vegetarians wear leather shoes.” I am still working on that one. “Buy low; sell high.” Come to think of it, he never said that. Finally, “Don’t get angry at the one person who can help you.”
He doesn’t claim originality in any of these, although I didn’t ask him about the shoe-wearing vegetarian. It is the last nugget of not alienating the one person you need to solve a problem that should be picked up by everyone.
Lew told about some flight mix-up and how a customer in front of him was ranting and raving to the ticket agent. The hotheaded traveler was badgering the poor lady while she was madly typing in alternative carriers or routes or what bus to take. One can imagine how many more misspellings or wrong numbers were punched in as the tension, embarrassment and intimidation were personalized.
Instead, it is the lowly night hotel clerk who can upgrade your room for free if you are nice after they lost your reservation. It is the help desk in Honduras that can connect your account number to your email in the database. It is the woman on the end of the line that you finally get to talk to after a mountain of wait.
It is not her fault that the company doesn’t hire enough helpers. It is not her doing that the waiting music is Barry Manilow’s 100 top hits starting at No. 93. It is not her responsibility that her company messed up again. It is, however, your opportunity to recruit her to your cause.
Just like I don’t always not sweat the small stuff, I don’t always have the patience to suffer fools. Maybe that is why there is often the notice that for training and quality purpose this conversation will be recorded. The other reason that conversations are taped is that there is evidence that we lost our cool. It is proof of what they say about when you get angry you have run out of skills.
I am not naïve that sometimes someone decides that making problem-solving nearly impossible is a way to discourage complaints. I too at times have to ask “Mary” in Bangladesh to repeat herself, but she is the one living in Bangladesh, not me.
In fact, it was enjoyable learning about a Hindi goddess for whom the lady on the phone in India received her name. The weather in Manila was hot; the city in Pakistan was near Lahore; the guy was studying to be an engineer and Robert really is his name.
If we should be nice to some stranger in El Salvador or Seattle, how much more critical is it for us to be nice to the people around us.
If nothing else, the people around us can help us not to be jerks. If we all strive to be kind, then being pleasant to others solves that problem. Others are the ones that can help us be better by prompting us to be our best.
Likewise when someone is rude to us, it is contrary to the wisdom of Lew to be angry with him or her. They are the very ones who can help us not to be upset at their rudeness. Without their lack of self-control we would never have the chance to test our commitment to loving others.
So remember, sell high and buy low. Also, everyone is the one person who can help you.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and practicing pediatrician for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.