Friday, January 19, 2018

Stop Me If You've Heard this One Before...

TL; DR:  Beware of open-ended agreements.  Saying "no" to something up front could cause an ounce of pain now that spares you a pound of pain later.

A quick personal update before I write the vignette to explain the summary above:   

Things went from crazy to normal to crazy again, and now they're back to normal.  Back in the summer, I accepted an opportunity to come onto ADOS (active duty for operational support) status at Fort Devens for a while, and thereby jettisoned my self-imposed adjuncting-and-tutoring hamster wheel life.  Uncle Sam handed my unit an end-of-fiscal-year surprise with virtually no warning, though --  on 30SEP I was no longer on active status, and had missed the start of fall semester.  I took a very blue collar job in Billerica at a warehouse, working for a large corporation.  The hours were weird, but I loved it and it served the immediate purpose of paying a lot of bills.  A happy twist came in November, and I was hired as a full-time lecturer at BU  -- my first-ever non-military, permanent, full-time position (I held out long enough though, didn't I?) I started this week, and now I *just* do that, plus the Army Reserve.  Life has never felt so normal.  

Okay, we're totally caught up now.  In broad strokes, that was the past eight months of my life.  

While I was working in Billerica, I befriended a guy who was a decade-plus younger, had immigrated to the States just a couple years ago, and got to work each morning via bicycle.  As someone with a fellow hustler's spirit, I admired this kid -- he only lived a mile or so down the road, but it's dark and cold at 12:30 a.m. in Massachusetts in the winter, and this kid pedaled his way through to grind it out and earn some money over on Salem Road.  I'll call this guy Pierre.  

I gladly gave Pierre rides home when I saw him on the way out.  He mentioned to me that he wanted to get a license, but couldn't pony up the dough for a driving school.  In a combination of sympathy for his situation and admiration for his hustle, I gladly volunteered some instruction of the free variety -- after work, we tooled around in the parking lot, starting with the gears, the gas, the brake, etc. and graduated to driving laps, backing into a space, parking between the lines, using lights and blinkers, etc.  We even took it to the mean streets a few times and he drove around on some quiet back roads, without incident.  

Our after-work driving sessions would end with me dropping him off at home.  On one of those days, as I was dropping him off, Pierre asked if I could begin to pick him up on my way in each morning.  Reflexively, I said "sure."  He was *basically* on my way, after all, and my only admonition was "don't make me late -- if I get here, and you're not ready, that's it, I'm taking off."  He agreed.  

I picked Pierre up all through our "peak" holiday season, right on schedule, six days a week, like clockwork and without incident.  

After the New Year, though, my schedule started to get a little bit complicated.  There was an Army Reserve weekend, and there were days that I had to get to Boston and wouldn't be at that job at all.  

Naturally, I coordinated with Pierre to relay this information.  

Still, some balls got dropped.  

There were times I had to waste half an hour playing "Where's Waldo" at the end of the shift after I couldn't find him in the parking lot.  There was the day that he forgot I was coming to pick him up beforehand, despite multiple confirmatory texts the day prior.  There was another time when I wasn't coming but got woken up anyway by a 1:30 a.m. text message to see whether I was on my way.  

At some point, I decided that I'd had enough.  Figuring out my own schedule was getting hard enough, let alone having to juggle this voluntary -- and increasingly complex -- coordination with someone else.  I reached out to let him know that I'd no longer be offering my ride service in the mornings, owing to the scheduling difficulty.  

So what do you think happened?  

Do you think:

(a) I got a thoughtful message of gratitude in return for all the help I had provided across the past couple of months?  An acknowledgement of that positive contribution on some cosmic, karmic scoreboard somewhere?  or

(b) A continued stream of text messages repeatedly asking for rides, that I initially responded to but then just began to ignore, culminating in him becoming angry with me, raising his voice, and then storming away on the shop floor on my last day there? 

Well, stop me if you've heard this one before...and if you've ever been in such a situation, you probably chose (b), correctly.  

For the record, I didn't help Pierre with the expectation of getting anything back in return -- not gas money, not some obsequious display of gratitude...not anything.  I helped him when I could, because it made sense, I didn't mind, and it was the right thing to do.  

But when it *stopped* making sense, when I *did* mind, and when it no longer felt like the right thing to do, I no longer felt obligated to some open-ended commitment that I never remembered signing up for in the first place.  

...and the point of this blog post isn't just for me to vent and whine -- it's to make a much bigger, very general, and hopefully helpful point to someone reading this:  be very, very hesitant about entering into ANY open-ended commitments, anywhere.  The ounce of pain that could come with an up-front "no" is far less injurious than the pound of pain that will come when the open-ended commitment breaks (which it inevitably will, somehow).  

Absolutely, by all means, be helpful.  

Give people rides.  Help them move out of their apartment.  Walk their dog when they go on vacation.  Start their car once a month while they're deployed.  Let your cousin crash on your couch while he looks for a new lease.  

Do these things not in search of chits to call in later, or to annoyingly lord it over them for years afterwards, or to seek elicit some explicit acknowledgement of how great you are, or how grateful they ought to be.  Do these things just to do them.  

But make sure there's an expiration date built in to the favor.  It's like, I'll gladly weed your garden and help water your plants today, but no, I can't do it every Sunday.  I'll gladly let you stay here while you get situated, but *this* can't be your indefinite plan -- don't put your name on my mailbox.  

When you ignore this rule, a collision course scenario will unfold -- eventually, you'll get tired of whatever *it* is, and this will come after the other party has come to expect it.  You'll tear the band-aid off, and when you do, all of the accumulated goodness that you might've imagined is for naught, replaced only be resentment and confusion.  


C R Krieger said...

First, I noticed the use of "chits", for which I was called out, not just by Producer John McDonough on City Life, but also by my orthopedic surgeon.  I am glad that Pat McCarron, Tom O'Brien, my wife and I are not the only ones to know this word and its broad meaning.  Oh, and probably some chap who goes to Mass at the Immaculate and has a USNA sticker on his car.

Second, thanks for the update.  Great news!.

Third, I think that your advice is sound.  Very sound. That is the kind of commitment you make to your wife, but not to your children. At some point they are on their own.

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...

Haha glad you liked the 'chit' reference, and thanks for the good cheer. Stability is kind of like oxygen -- one of those things you don't appreciate quite enough until you have to.

Jon and Kate said...

Glad you're blogging again.

This definitely goes under the headline "no good deed goes unpunished." I'm sure there's a psychological term for "taking something for granted until it becomes so ingrained in your perception of reality that you only forget that it initially began as a sacrifice on the part of another" but there you go. This used to happen to me all the time when I would offer to read someone's script. Lord knows I rarely do that anymore.

The New Englander said...

Thanks for the good bloggin' cheer...and yep -- although I've never been asked to read a script (thankfully!) I completely understand how that could unfold, and why you set this policy now.

The more feedback you give, the more questions you'll engender on the part of the original asker...and the more of your own blood, sweat, and tears expended in the process, the more resentment there'll be on the other side of the table when you finally say, "no mas."

Not reading it at all is a way more genuine/backboned approach then what I would surmise many/most people do -- give it a cursory glance and a quick "this is AWESOME!!!" bit of a response to make the other person go away but at a minimal level of pain infliction.