Sunday, July 17, 2011

Breaking the Rules

Now that I'm a Dad, I can't help but remember the lines I heard most often at home from my Dad, and I seem to catch myself using them more and more... "The deadline for all complaints was yesterday." "The effective range of an excuse is zero meters." "The best question you can ever ask is 'What can I do to help?'" "Make sure to say thanks to the [insert last name of family who took me somewhere]." and so on. Of course, I don't subject my own daughter to any of this, as she's a bit too young to understand, and a bit too 8000 miles away to hear me, anyway. In the meantime, the blog is my outlet to do this type of stuff, and it's just way more efficient than e-mail for keeping up with the dozen or so people I'd call close friends.

One of my main hobbyhorses is the "If life had a rulebook" theme, and the #1 rule I would include if I wrote such a rulebook (and in the world of self-publishing, that might not be such an 'if') is this: When someone does goes out of his/her way to do you a favor, don't criticize the WAY the person is doing it. There's a corollary, of course, which is not to expect gratitude for things that there was no 'demand signal' for in the first other words, don't mow my lawn on your own initiative and tell me I now 'owe you one.'

But back to Rule 1. To use some rather extreme hypotheticals, if you were near-starving, and I cooked you a meal, you would basically lose the right to whine about how there wasn't enough salt in the food. Or if you were broken down on the side of the road at three a.m., and I came to get you, the speed and manner in which I drive are sort of off the table. Anyway, I think you get the idea.

And I write all this because I actually have a not-so-hypothetical to share. Someone who I don't know personally, but *know* through Facebook and LinkedIn because we share some common professional interests went out of her way to organize a niche sort of veterans' group. On top of that, she went out of her way to organize a Skype-from-anywhere conference call so that members could dial in and talk about professional goals, network, etc. Of course, there had to be some stake thrown in the ground as far as a time and date, so she chose next Sunday, obviously realizing some would be able to make it, and others wouldn't. Below, in italics, is a person's actual response:

I'd love to join the call. Sundays, especially Sunday evenings, are the worst possible times for me. It's hard to imagine a family person being able to join a call at that time of day on that particular day. Sounds like a young singles type of thing, as I recall that time in my life.
Huh? I'm neither single nor in my twenties. How is either relevant to the time that a conference call might work? If it were Monday or Wednesday, I might have a commitment (I'm imaging I were stateside). If it were Friday or Saturday night, I might have social plans. If it were during a weekday, I'd have a school or work commitment. The bottom line is that no time is perfect for anyone.

If you can't spare 20 minutes on a Sunday night, then great, just RSVP negative or don't respond at all. But don't make some grand extrapolation about the 'married people versus the single people' based on the way you perceive it would inconvenience you (As if, somehow, people's families stop mattering from Monday through Saturday?) But anyway, it seems to me that the organizer or a small group has gone out of their way to set all this up. The last thing they need is a ration of 'you-know-what' from someone simply because a particular time/date combination doesn't work.

To reiterate rule 1 -- you don't necessarily have to show gratitude for everything. Sometimes you'll forget, and sometimes it just won't occur to you...both are totally understandable. But if someone has gone way out of his/her way to try to do something NICE for you (i.e. include you on an invite for a professional conference call), don't start throwing daggers just because it isn't perfectly tailored to your life.


C R Krieger said...

The one that sticks out in my mind from my Father, and is close to your's is if someone is doing some work for you you should honor them by making yourself available at the spot, just on the off chance they might have something for you to do, and out of respect for their time and effort. An extreme hypothetical—if someone is changing your tire for you, don't go over to the bar across the street and get a beer for yourself.

Regards  —  Cliff

Jon and Kate said...

I love that. I just read this quote in an interview with one of my favorite people, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. He was asked about this very question of ingratitude. He said:

Thich Nhat Hanh: I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong. They do not touch enough on what is“not”wrong - it’s the same as some psychotherapists. Why not try the other way, to look into the patient and to see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?

Waking up in the morning, you can recognize “I’m alive” and that there are twenty-four hours for me to live, to learn how to look at living beings with the eyes of compassion. If you are aware that you are alive, that you have twenty-four hours to create new joy, this would be enough to make yourself happy and the people around you happy. This is a practice of happiness.