Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Compulsive Kindness

It's the Holiday Season - be kind to people working retail, be kind to strangers... just be kind!

When I was a little kid, my mother would always get compliments from other people on how well behaved my brother and sister and I were. When we were in public we never raised our voices, let alone ran around and roughhoused. We stood in a straight line. We didn’t touch things that were not ours. We might fight like cats and dogs at home, but in public we never pushed each other or hit each other or even raised our voices. My parents raised us well and lead by example. We did unto others as we would have them do unto us. None of this had anything to do with religion or threats of being whipped with a belt - it was just good behavior. When we were out in public, we had a code of conduct to follow.

Back then I believe most kids had a code of conduct to follow when they were out in public. I know our friends the Holloway kids did... though I don’t remember them standing in a straight line - that may have just been something my mom came up with. Though some kids were little hellions, most behaved when in public. That’s what was expected of kids at the time. We always said “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and “may I be excused” when we had finished dinner. We had to ask permission before doing anything unusual - and if all of this sounds like we were some sort of Stepford Kids, nothing could be farther from the truth. We built forts and dug fox holes to play army and often played in the forbidden creek behind the house if mom was busy doing something and we didn’t think we’d get caught. We were normal kids, who had some manners and did unto others.

The mind set of doing unto others and considering other people has stuck with me into adulthood. So has saying “please” and “thank you”. When I’m working in a coffee shop and they put my drink on the counter, I always say “thank you” even if I am across the room plugging in the laptop. It’s only polite. And this got me thinking about all of the things that I do that are traces of those childhood lessons in being polite.

1) I always say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

2) I always try to have a genuine smile for people. I hate those plastered on fake smiles, and I have been guilty of wearing them every now and then. When I smile at people, 99% of the time I mean it. I also try to be positive - and trust people and be nice to people as my default. I know people who start out suspicious and angry, I don't want to be one of those people.

3) I clean up after myself - I always try to leave things where and as I found them. If I am in the grocery store and decide not to buy something in my cart, I take it back to the shelf where I found it and even face it and make it look pretty - because that's probably what it looked like when I grabbed it. If it didn't look like that? I'm leaving the world in better shape than I found it. That's the goal whether it's a grocery store or an interaction with a stranger.

4) When I’m at a stop light, I always look *both* ways before turning right or pulling out. I also look both ways before crossing a street - or doing just about anything. Always good to know what's around you - instead of not caring.

5) Probably because I’m often on a bicycle, I stop my car behind the limit line, not in the middle of the cross walk. You know, that extra foot doesn’t get me there any faster. When I'm driving, I go with the flow of traffic - rather than race to the next stop light. Oddly, I get there the same time as the car that races through traffic.

6) When squeezing past someone or crossing in front of their sight line or any number of other things, I say either “excuse me” or “pardon me”. Since many people in Los Angeles speak Spanish as their primary language, I usually say “pardon me” because I think it is easier for everyone to understand. I don’t say “pardon me” for me, I say it to be polite to others.

7) I park within the lines, and as straight as possible. This means it may take me an extra minute to position my car - but that makes it easier for people parked on either side to open their doors and pull their cars out of their parking spot.

8) When I am paying at a cash register, I make sure my money is faced when I hand it to the clerk. When I worked retail I had to face my money at the end of the day, so I know what a pain it is to get a wad of messy money. It takes a second to put all of the bills face up and rightside up before handing it to the clerk.

9) I look before moving. If I’m going to take a step to the side or a step back, I look at the spot where I’m moving to *before* moving so that I don’t step on anyone. Saves me from having someone else's coffee on my clothes.

10) I am patient. Okay, not always - never at the post office - but I try to be patient most of the time. Whether I’m in a rush or not will not change how fast things happen or how fast other people move. Better to just take it easy.

11) By the time I get to the front of the line, I am completely ready to order. I know exactly what I want, and the answer to any of the normal question I might be asked (“Soup or salad?” “Do you want fries with that?” “Room for cream?”) I don’t want to waste the time of the people behind the counter or the people behind me because I am not prepared. By the time I stand in line, I know exactly what I want.

12) When I am walking on the sidewalk, I walk on the right side (or the left side) - never in the center. If the people in front of me are walking on the left side, I walk on the left side... so I'm not creating a maze for people walking towards me. Everyone moving in the same direction should be walking on the same side of the sidewalk. I want to make it easy for people behind me to pass me, and people coming in the opposite direction to get around me.

13) When I step off and escalator or through a door I continue to walk several steps to make sure I am not blocking people behind me. I usually keep walking and survey my surroundings to see where I want to go, rather than stop and look around. That way I’m not holding up traffic.

14) When I am next in a check out line, I have money in my hand as well as a selection of change, so that nobody has to wait for me to dig into my pocket to find that nickle. I’m *prepared* to pay for my purchases. Oh, and because I’m strange, I often add up my items in my mind and figure in tax and have a pretty good estimate of what the total is going to be. I’m usually within a dollar either way, and that helps me know what kind of bills I should have in my hand when I get to the checkstand.

15) If I’m talking on my cell phone in public, I try to use a quiet voice or go outside - I don’t want to bother other people with my conversation... and I kind of like privacy.

16) I try not to kick a man when he’s down. Once I’ve made my point, I back off. Though I’m sure I’ve kept hammering away at somebody a few times on message boards, I usually back off. Also, when someone has a bad day, I don’t make it worse... even if I hate them and my evil side would love to destroy them. It’s not fair.

17) I always go to the restroom or go outside to blow my nose. It’s gross to do it somewhere people are watching or listening... let alone trying to eat a meal.

18) I gauge traffic when I am merging, and pull out in an opening with enough distance between the car in front and in back of me... and at the same speed they are going. I don't stop to merge - that's silly. I don’t want to cause anyone to jamb on their brakes or have to swerve - I want it to be a smooth blend of my car into the stream of traffic.

19) If I am walking with friends on the sidewalk and others approach us in the opposite direction, I step behind or in front of my friend(s) so that we are walking single-file, allowing those walking towards us half of the sidewalk to pass us. This isn’t always easy - I have some friends who don’t get it, and if I fall back, so do they.

20) When I’m wrong, I apologize, and I mean it.

21) My cell phone ringer is either set low or on vibrate - the rest of the world doesn’t have to know my phone is ringing, and I really don’t care if you hear my cool ringtone or not (it’s the Peter Gunn theme - which is used in a bunch of commercials, and I often reach for my phone when it’s just a Chase Bank commercial on TV.)

22) I don’t block other people in an aisle or a store or a walkway or anyplace else - and I try not to stand in front of things other people might want access to.

23) If I make a mistake more than once, I try to make sure I don’t make it a third time. You are supposed to learn from your mistakes, not keep making them over and over again. Sometimes, if it’s some sort of bad habit, I find some way to punish myself if I keep doing it. I’m too old to have my mom spank me, so sometimes I have to spank myself. Not literally. But I do not reward myself for failure or making mistakes - I take away some pleasure until I stop screwing up.

24) I do not talk on my cell phone when I get to the front of a line - that’s when I need to be focusing on paying or ordering or talking with the person on the other side of the counter. It’s rude to the person behind the counter, it's rude to the person on the phone, and rude to the people standing behind me when I fumble through trying to hold two conversations at once.

25) In the grocery store, I push my cart down the right side of the aisle, and either stay on that right side when grabbing items off the shelves or move far enough away from my cart that I am not blocking both sides of the aisle - one side with my cart and one side with me shopping. I always leave half the aisle empty so that other people with carts can get past me.

26) If I am crossing a street as a pedestrian (or just walking across a parking lot entrance) I look at traffic in all directions - some times it’s easier to wait for one car to pass even though I have the right of way. If I have to wait a minute so that things run smoother for everyone else, no big deal. And if cars are waiting for me to cross the street, I walk *fast* - I don’t take my time when I’m also taking other people’s time. The same thing if I am in my car: sometimes things will move faster if I let the other car go first. My car has well over 100,000 miles on it, and I have honked the horn maybe a dozen times. When I am out in the world, it's all about what works best for the world, not what works best for me. Oh, and I always use my turn signal. Always. Even in parking lots.

27) I try to be aware of everyone around me and stay out of people’s way. If I’m blocking a bunch of people from getting where they want to go because I’ve got my head in the clouds thinking about something or talking on the phone or whatever - I’m holding up the whole danged world!

28) When I pick a table at a restaurant or a coffee shop, I try not to pick one that would be of better use to someone else - I’m one person, so I don’t take a large table that might be better used by a family or a group, I don’t take a table designed for handicapped access or might be more convenient for an elderly person. Sometimes these are the only tables available, so I have no choice - but I always think about others when I select a table.

29) If I’m walking in a shopping mall or hallway or sidewalk and need to stop, I move to the side (near the wall) and *then* stop, so that I am not suddenly stopping in front of someone and am out of the way *before* I slow down or stop.

30) I try to help people whenever possible - not because of some sort of karma thing where what goes around will come around back to me (that would be nice, but I’m not sure that’s really how the world works), but just because it usually takes the same amount of effort to help people as to put them down or even ignore them. There are all kinds of people who seem to go out of their way to be mean or dismissive to people - and that’s a lot of work just to be negative. Usually it takes the same amount of work to help people - and that makes the world a little better. I don’t go out of my way looking for people to help, I just help anyone whose path crosses mine. That may be holding the door open for someone with their arms full or answering a question on a message board I visit or helping somebody find something if I know where it is (a street, a business, or even an item in the store). Most of these are silly little things that are part of our day-to-day lives, but my “default setting” is helpful. One of those things I learned from my parents.

By the way, I think one of the reasons why my brother and sister and I were so well behaved in public is that my mom encouraged us to *think about playing* and imagine what we would do when we got home and were allowed to run around in the yard and have fun. Or think about our toys and hobbies (my brother and I would think about Hot Wheels, my sister would think about Barbies - Mattel Toys won either way). Or think about our favorite televison shows or the book we were reading. We would sort of play in our minds... and entertain ourselves. No need to be little hellions in the grocery store. Those good manners, and thinking of others as well as ourselves, have stuck with me from childhood into adulthood.

(This was going to be called "Compusive Manners" but that didn't have the same ring to it.)

Thank you for reading this.

- Bill


Anonymous said...

Bill, I have printed this out to share with family and friends. We need you here in New York, where people are actually reasonably kind and polite (maybe because you never know when some crazy is going to pull a machete out of his socks.

Rusty James said...

Laid To Rest was a DIY'er - writer/director's wife was the *star* and friends joined the cast. It was also shot in wife's hometown.

But you are right, it is awful to watch.

ObiDonWan said...

In your list of ideas for off-beat characters, you actually name two current or just past tv shows: Psych and one with Jeff Goldblum as the guy who talks with dead folks to solve their murders. You should either get royalties or start writing these things up. And dammit you need a sharp agent or manager to promote your ideas.

Grant said...

This put a smile on my face. I've got to get some stuff off my chest.

Several rules touched on a big pet peeve of mine. Traffic always travels on the right side! I don't care if it's cars, foot traffic, shopping carts, etc! I'm amazed at how many people don't get it. Maybe in London things are different, but this is the good old U-S-OF-A!

And sure, if you have kids or a stroller or four dogs or whatever taking up the whole sidewalk, I understand and steer clear, but when a pack of full-grown people expects me to leave the sidewalk and go through the mud, it ain't going to happen.

I'll add one to the set of line rules that you probably do automatically. Pick a damn line! Over the past few years, if there are two or three registers open, people have started to stand in the middle of two lines, so they can take the faster one. Then things get confusing, and they act like you're a jerk if you actually ask them which line they're in or take the one they're furthest from. And it's been getting worse and worse. A McDonald's I used to go to actually put mats on the floor with footprints, showing people how to make lines, which they of course ignored.

Grant said...

Oh yeah, and the people who hang their legs over the seats in front of them at movie theaters.

Or put their bag in the comfy seat next to them at the Starbucks so you don't sit there.

wcmartell said...

Man, how did I miss putting your feet on furniture? That's one of those things that was drilled into us... and seems to be forgotten, now (or ignored by some people).

I hate when someone's feet are on a *table* - and you don't know what those feet have stepped in.

Last night at dinner (City Wok) we had a conversation about how drivers in LA think you can run a red light as long as you honk first... plus a bunch of other crazy things people do here (but none of us at the table have experienced this elsewhere). This city is really all about ME ME ME. And, I know that isn't everybody - but a higher % than other places.

- Bill

wcmartell said...

LAID looked great, and the FX was great... and I had no idea the lead was director's wife, but that explains that. It was just so dopey!

I bump into these people all the time who spend a bunch of money filming a bad script - and they think it's great. I also bump into people who want to hire a writer to script their idea - which is not good (but they have the money).

So many bad films can easily be traced to bad scripts or bad development... and these things are my pet biz peeves, just like those people who get to the front of the line at the cinema and *then* decide what they want to see is a pet peeve.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bill. You hit the nail on the head, and I agree with every point. It's nice to know at least someone out there feels the same way I do about this stuff.

-Chris V.

Pete Bauer said...

Amen, Bill! We're on the exact same page. As I've explained to my kids, being polite is a sign of respect for the other person. It doesn't mean you like them, you respect them because you would want others to respect you.

It's not hard to get your kids to understand it... you just have to be consistent at expecting such behavior. In short order, it just is the way we do it.

I wish more people were raised by your mom, or my mom :)

Laura Deerfield said...

Most of your rules are things I do without thinking about it - which may explain why people think I'm exceptionally nice and easy to get along with. It's not really "nice" - it's just simple consideration. I find life flows more smoothly when you are polite and considerate, and when you help other people.

One that makes a bigger difference than most could imagine is having a genuine smile for people. Actually looking them in the eye and smiling at that person. Maybe even paying a sincere compliment. It's wonderful the way people light up in response, (and it often makes them more inclined to treat you well, or do you a favor.)

Many of these rules involve the simple awareness that there are other people around you, and I have noticed a class difference in this. I've lived in a wealthy area, and in a poor area. In the poor neighborhood, when I go to the grocery store, people walk slowly down the middle of aisles and let their children run everywhere. They even do this in the parking lot, kids darting in front of cars. At the store in a wealthier neighborhood, people stay on one side of the aisle, make room for others, keep their kids close. Though I will say the rich folks are worse about not picking a line, being impatient, and taking up extra space in a coffee shop or restaurant.

If more people would *try* to behave courteously, they might be shocked at how much more smoothly their day went, and how much less stressed they were about the bumps that did come up.

wcmartell said...

I thank my parents for doing a great job at raising me, because being a polite person really does help in the world. I've said before that it amazes me when I go into a Starbucks that I have not been in for months... and they remember my name. How is that possible? I think it's because I'm polite and friendly.

And I don't know if it's class, I think it has more to do with the kids of idiots end up being idiots. You lead by example. If the parents don't care about anyone but themselves, the kids will learn to act the same.

Though it's a parent's job to teach basic manners and respect, maybe we've reached the point of insanity where it should be taught in school. With a test.

It takes the same amount of energy to be nice.

- Bill

ObiDonWan said...

What if...the rudeness is actually a premonition that the world is going to end soon and not in a nice way. By being rude, people help bring that about and kind of prepare themselves not to feel empathy for the dying and dead.

wcmartell said...


Have you seen 28 DAYS LATER? Social commentary masquerading as a zombie movie? Once your friend (or lover) is infected you have 20 seconds to kill them before they become stronger than you (and kill you). So people stop forming bonds with each other - you can't. Maybe that is what is happening?

Cllr Keith Martin said...

Pretty sure this is the speech from "Falling Down".

eXTReMe Tracker