Friday, May 27, 2011

9 Ways to Improve People in the U.S.

This is the second installment in my “Fixing the Country” series.

It didn’t always used to be like this.  Airline desk agents and flight attendants didn’t always have huge chips on their shoulders.  Neither did TSA agents, or waiters, or receptionists, or lawyers…well, actually lawyers have always been assholes, but you get the idea.  Pretty much anyone that interacts with people in this country has a problem with you.  It flat-out sucks that people in many service positions have gone on such power trips in recent memory. 

Adam Carolla goes on rants at least weekly about this phenomenon on his podcast, and like many others out there, I have to say that more often than not, I agree with him.  Of course, there are rare exceptions; as I’m typing this, a flight attendant on American gave me a free drink because the flight had been delayed an hour-and-a-half due to the crew’s late arrival.  Most of the time, though, people will seize on the smallest amount of power imaginable as if it’s a mandate from God Almighty himself, like they’re the fucking King of Norway.  And even for those of us that try to be the exception, I’m sure we all have our moments where we could’ve exercised better judgment as opposed to snapping at someone, or playing the asshole because our own lives sucked at that moment.

As I am wont to do, though, instead of just bitching about this phenomenon, I figured I would come up with nine values that should be taught in every grade school right now, and practiced by everyone in the country to make things just a little more livable for everyone else.  So without further ado, enjoy:

1) Life is Short (and Actually Worthwhile to Some of Us)

Too many people take life for granted now, and while the hours away either doing shit that they hate, or making life tougher for those of us that have better shit to do because they don’t value their own time.  Some people just don’t value life at all, and make lives for themselves as gang members or hardened criminals, not giving a shit when they have to end someone else’s life.  Just because your life sucks doesn’t mean the rest of us hate our lives.  Also, a lot of us have stuff to do that is important to us, so don’t hold us back from doing what we need or want to do.

2) Don’t Hurt Others (If at All Possible)

This is tied directly to the first one.  Too many people want to make other peoples’ lives difficult FOR NO REASON AT ALL!  Even worse, some people think that for some reason hurting other people, either  physically or mentally, makes them feel better about themselves.  This is, for lack of a better term, sociopathic.  Sure, there are times you have to hurt someone: if you’re in a relationship that’s not going to work where the other person is really into you, or if you need to give your buddy a gentle nudge on the road to fitness, but don’t make a fucking sport out of it—that’s just cruel.  Also, this does not mean “don’t stand up for yourself”—if there’s an asshole that deserves a beating for crossing the line, by all means, as Mel Gibson says at traffic stops in the movie Signs, “swing away.”  Just don’t go around picking fights for the hell of it—that’s just a shitty move.

3) Work Hard

I don’t care if you’re swinging a hammer or writing novels—at the end of the day, you simply won’t get ahead without hard work.  This goes even beyond just “doing your job.”  Even if you write the greatest blog in the world, it doesn’t really matter if nobody reads it.  (Now you all know why I’ve been such a little shit about promoting the blog on facebook.  Not that I think it’s “the greatest blog in the world” or anything…).  You have to work hard at ALL aspects of being successful to have true success.  That’s what separates the successful, talented guy from the unsuccessful, talented guy.  Even though you may have a talent at something, you need to be a finisher and GET SHIT DONE.

4) Be a Problem Solver

This is one that all of our fine airport and airline personnel could use a refresher in.  A lot of people think that it’s not their job to help customers, or even other people, with their problems.  You get a lot of, “Sir, it’s just company policy,” or “Sir…no…we have rules sir!”  Like they’re in the army and the policy exists for life-and-death reasons.  In the vast majority of cases, these are rules put in place by higher-ups for reasons marginally related to legal liability, or to ensure the uniformity of customer service.  Unfortunately, that uniformity has come to mean uniformly shitty service.  Here’s a tip: your job isn’t to embrace the problems that people come up with so that you have to do less work.  Your job is to help people solve problems whenever possible.  What happened to taking pride in the work that you do?  Sure solving people’s problems may take a miniscule amount of additional effort, but I’ve found that when you help other people solve a problem that’s important to them, they are extremely grateful, and YOU also generally feel better.  For example, just now I ordered another drink, and the stewardess gave me FREE DRINK NUMBER TWO!  Problem: not drunk enough on a plane that was delayed because the stewardess was late getting in.  Solution: give the man more free drinks.  Amazing how simple it can be sometimes.

I’ve covered this one in greater detail in the post linked above, but too many people bitch about things with no clear purpose other than to annoy those around them.  They actually enjoy complaining about things, so they’ll put themselves in situations where they are more likely to be able to complain about things not going their way.  Maybe bitching enough worked for them once, and they latched onto it as a problem solving strategy.  Or maybe they just fucking suck.  But bitchers rarely get results.  Doers, on the other hand, don’t spend their time chewing other people out, and actually do something about their situation.  Flight is cancelled after a long delay?  The bitcher finds someone from the airline and is in their ear for an hour about how “I paid a lot of money for this seat!” and “You owe me!”  The Doer, meanwhile, is on the phone with the airline, getting a seat on the next flight and arranging a rental car if need be to get from LAX to San Diego.  One person is generally going to be more successful than the other.  Bitching is only effective in a couple of instances; when you’re not too serious and trying to chat up a chick, or for entertainment value.  But by and large, you’re much better off being a Doer instead of a bitcher (yes, the capitalization or lack thereof is intentional—I refuse to dignify bitchers with a capital “B”).

6) Take Personal Responsibility

I could do a whole post on this point alone, but I’ll restrain myself.  Too many people play the “victim” card nowadays.  “I didn’t get X,” “it’s somebody else’s fault,” “I had nothing to do with it.”  Actually, odds are it WAS your fault!  Now, sometimes, shit happens—you work for Enron and the company goes belly up, for example.  But it was still your decision to keep your 401(k) in company stock.  A lot of times, a failure to take personal responsibility is an acknowledgment that you avoided helpful information that was readily available.  Maybe “I had no way of knowing” was a legit excuse in the 50s, but nowadays, with everything available online, that excuse doesn’t fly anymore.  By taking responsibility for your actions, you cut everyone else out of the equation and come back to one person that you can always hold accountable: yourself.  Shit does happen, but nine times out of ten, if you want it badly enough, you can get it.  Now, if you’re that one out of ten, I’m terribly sorry, but still, things should work out eventually if you keep your goals in focus.

7) Have a Sense of Humor

Too often, you hear about a group that represents some group of people protesting a movie because of a joke contained within.  This is ridiculous.  Not only are you actually reversing your cause a good amount because normal people think, “holy shit, these people can’t take a joke?”, but you also set the level of discourse about your subject back quite a bit.  People become too afraid to express their views, and we end up with the fucking thought police hauling us into Room 101 for something that’s not “politically correct.”  Fuck that.  Here’s an idea: make fun of yourselves before other people can do it.  It’s worked for fat kids for years (trust me on that one), and shows that “ok, this person doesn’t take themselves too seriously—they’re cool.”  I’ve seen the same thing from countless friends of mine that happen to be minorities or from groups that otherwise get made fun of; if they can make fun of something about themselves, they are almost universally good people.  Unless it’s something that they harp on and harp on constantly, or if it’s uncomfortable, like one of your buddies talking incessantly about his small dick.  But generally, it’s a good idea to develop a sense of humor and quick wit that will serve you well in almost any situation.

8) Be Courteous

This is kind of a combination of all of the other points, but when there’s a choice between being an asshole and showing someone a little bit of courtesy, go with the courtesy.  Being an asshole may seem “cool” to your “hard” friends, but it usually sucks for the person on the receiving end.  Oh, and by the way, sometimes that “mild mannered” person on the receiving end isn’t so mild-mannered after all, and will kick your ass.  But even if the threat of physical violence isn’t a possibility, if you’re a TSA agent and want to stop somebody in line at LAX for not having their toiletries in a quart-sized plastic bag instead of the gallon-sized one, DON’T HOLD UP THE FUCKING LINE WHEN ALL OF US HAVE ALREADY BEEN WAITING AN HOUR SO THAT YOU CAN MAKE THIS PERSON CHOOSE WHICH TOILETRIES TO KEEP!  And, lady with the toiletries, let’s not make this “Sophie’s Choice” here, if it’s the $3 bottle of mini shampoo versus the $2 toothpaste, just fucking pick one already and be done with it!

But, yeah, be courteous when given the opportunity.

9) Make a Positive Difference in the World

Isn’t this what it comes down to in the final moment of your final day?  “Did I make a positive impact on this planet during the short time I was here?”  Every day, you should ask yourself, “Am I doing what I want to be doing today?  If so, is it making the world a better place for me and a significant number of people?”  If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” you either need to take a long look in the mirror at what you want to be doing with your life, or you’re a sick fuck that likes doing some pretty fucked-up shit.  Seriously, though, a lot of times, the legacy we leave is all that there is to make our mark on this shitty little rock.  The entertainer brings smiles to other peoples’ faces.  The architect makes buildings that are (hopefully) both functional and eye-catching.  It doesn’t have to be a famous legacy; there are plenty of teachers out there that have had wide-ranging effects on their students.  Even the garbageman takes trash away from peoples’ houses so that they can enjoy their trash-free homes.  There are loved ones and even strangers that have had enormous impacts on others by what they said to those people during key moments in their lives.  The bottom line is that if you aren’t looking to make a difference in the life of someone else, what are you doing here?  Really, at that point, you should just go live off the grid in a cabin in Canada, or, better still, roam the world (like that guy at the end of Kung Fu) until you find a purpose in life higher than yourself.  Whatever the case, make having an impact on others a central focus of your life, and you’ll feel much better about what you’re doing.  Is that selfish?  Maybe.  But I don’t think it is if the net impact you have on society is a positive one.

Phew, that was one long diatribe.  Thoughts?  Concerns?  Leave them in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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