August 4, 2008

Decency Deficit

The Roman Philosopher Seneca observed that the great source of anger within his realm was unrealistically high expectations. He noted that the nobility of Rome, with all their pomp and wealth, held unrealistically high expectations of others and of life; and were in turn destined to suffer in fury when things did not work out the way they wanted. His proposal was for us to adapt to our surroundings; that we should not expect precision and promptness in every event; rather, that we should expect delays, omissions, mistakes, accidents, and any other unintended occurrence that may or may not be avoidable. To spend one's time harping at every slight, every mistake, every little thing that one dislikes is not only a complete waste of energy; It has the opposite effect than intended. Pointing out the minor and insignificant occurrences we all make irritates; I often catch my mistakes as I make them, often correcting them, but I don't obsess over them.

Workplaces can be difficult to conduct oneself in a pleasant manner; Using retail as as example: It is expected that customers will bring whatever moods or problems they have into the store with them. The assumption that any employee of a store is required to behave as a subordinate to the customer is a mindset that too many people possess. I have had far too many exchanges with people who assume my job is to placate their every whim to pass it off as a few bad eggs. A simple search online of blogs by people in the service industry will tell you everything you need to know. I don't often make sweeping generalizations, but I will now; the American consumer is a pretentious asshole.

The solution, is easy to put in writing. Be forgiving. Be understanding. Allow for mistakes. Laugh off any nuisance. Don't harp on someone the second the mess up. I do these things. I haven't always, but I can say with complete honesty that for the last year I have made my surroundings a more pleasant place because of my commitment to this ideal.

What have I observed? Well, that I am for the most part alone. Women tend to be nicer. Younger people in general have better attitudes. Minorities tend to be one, or the other. Economic status plays a role; If you have a lot of money, or a little, you are more likely to be a jerk. The one politician I assisted was a very nice individual, although his daughter was quite unappreciative of the money he was spending on her.

What is my point? It's easy. Why should we not behave with decency towards other human beings? And why shouldn't that apply everywhere? Why do we not treat one another with respect, all the time? Why did I have to be told time and time again from the age of ten just how nice and polite I was? It has been clear to me for a long time that people simply do not expect much from one another.

I am starting a new tactic today. From now on, I will continue to be kind, helpful, courteous, and friendly to every single person I meet. And if they do not respond in kind, provided I am not at work, I will point this out. I hear all the time how unhappy people are with one another. Isn't it time to do something about it?



MarkT said...

"The Roman Philosopher Seneca observed that the great source of anger within his realm was unrealistically high expectations."

Unrealistic expectations- along with fear, ignorance, inflated self-worth, & laziness- contribute to the general "miserableness" & meanness of many Americans.

A large percentage of people that I know are NOT happy, and they're NOT content- even if they seem to have relatively trouble-free, stable lives.

Poll after poll shows Denmark to be the world's happiest, most content nation.
One of their secrets? Low expectations!

Article here:

MarkT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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