Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Strangers of Kindness

I am coming to the conclusion about myself that, frankly, worries me.  I’ve done things that, well...  I don’t really want to talk about, but think I have to face up to.  
As much as I’m afraid to admit it, I think I’m becoming a...  “Nice Guy.”
There are lots of reasons why I don’t want to be a Nice Guy.  First off, they finish last.  We’ve heard it so often that I think it must be true.  I don’t want to finish last.  I am competitive.  I want to win. 
Second, I already belong to a category of person that excludes Nice Guys.  I’m a middle-manager at a nation wide corporation.  That makes me a “Boss.”  Bosses make people do more than what they are willing to do to keep being paid less than what they think they’re worth.  You can’t do that and be a Nice Guy. 
A colleague of mine often tells me, “People work hard either because they love what they do, or they are afraid of losing their jobs.  No other reasons.”  Having been born and raised in the former Soviet Union, this colleague makes a very good Boss.  
An example of Bossness: The other day during my lunch-time walk, I passed the front steps of another office.  I saw a guy, little bit older than me, much more chubbier than me, holding the door open for a young lady who was walking out with her head bowed down.  By the time she got to the bottom of the steps, the young lady was crying.  By the time she got into the parking lot, she was bawling out loud.  
The guy stood by the door and watched her.  Being a Boss myself, I knew what he was doing.  He was making sure she didn’t key his car for having just fired her.  Or that she didn’t take anything that belonged to the company and not her.  Or that she didn’t reach into the trunk of her car, pull out a weapon and come back in to lay waste to the company that had just made her a downtick in the next unemployment report.  I know the drill.  This is what Bosses do.  
But like I’ve said, there is evidence I’m not scary enough to be a Boss.  
The other day, while working on something in my office, I overheard two of my employees talking.  This was right after I had gone out and brought a mistake I’d discovered to the attention of them that had made it.  As I sat back down at my desk, I heard...
“Erick, he tries to act scary, huh?”  
“Yeah.  He pretends he wants us to be afraid of him.”  
“Why is that?  I mean, he’s tough, but scary...?”  
What?  No, no, no...  I’m Scary.  Grrr.  Hear that scary growl?  Grrr, grrr.  Scary Boss here.  Yeah.  Get back to work and be afraid!  Grrr, grrr, grrr.
I didn’t say any of that stuff.  I was...  Busy with other Boss-things.  But I’ll show ‘em on Monday.  Yeah.  I’ll show them.  Grrr.  
Something happened on Friday night that has me worried even more.  
I stopped by a take-out pizza place on the way home.  We had a good day at work at the end of what turned out toe be a good week.  I decided to get myself some pizza and win, my reward dinner.  I placed my order then walked across the street to buy some wine at my local Trader Joe’s.  
Just as I got back, putting the wine and other things I bought in the trunk of my car, a guy on a bicycle was pulling up.  He was in a hurry.  He skidded to a stop in front of the pizza place and parked his bike.  I entered the place right behind him.  
"I'd like a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich."  He was pulled his gloves off and took out his wallet.  "How long will it take to make?"  
"About fifteen, twenty minutes." 
This made the guy pause.  I took a moment to take a look at him.  Black guy.  Little shorter than me.  Heavy wool coat with a cross-hatched pattern.  He had on a twenties style flat cap and round black horn rimmed glasses.  He might be a time-traveller just returned from a pre-Great Recession expedition.  
"Is it closer to fifteen than twenty?"  Before the clerk could go on, Bike-guy held his hands out in an appeal.  "I gotta be back before they lock the doors."  
"Well, it takes as long as it takes."  The clerk smiled, lifting his shoulders.  "I mean, we gotta make it, then put it in the oven..."
"Okay, okay..."  The bike-guy waved his hands to silence the guy.  "I'll go ahead and order one.  But I need to get it by eight fifty-three, because they lock the doors at nine..."  
This was the girl that had taken my order.  She was coming up behind the other clerk, carrying a pizza box.  I reached over the counter to grab it.  I thanked her and stood a moment to listen.  
"If I have to leave, to get back in time, can I get store credit or something?  The last time I was here I had to go 'cause they're serious when they say I have to be back before nine.  I mean, By Nine!"  He made a chopping motion with his hand.  
"We'll do our best."  The clerk was nodding.  I could hear him thinking, "If you stop telling me how fast you need this I can get started making it for you."  
I noticed the girl watching me watch the scene.  She smiled a, "Customer's, huh?" sort of smile.  I smiled back with something like a, "good luck," smile in return.  I turned, pizza in hand.  Crossed the three feet to the door.  Opened it.  Stepped outside.  
And stopped.  I was halfway out the door, listening to bike-guy talk about how he really wanted that sandwich tonight, negotiating with them to hurry or at least give him some consideration for later if they couldn't get him his sandwich in time.  I turned around and stepped back inside.  
"Excuse me?"
Bike-guy turned to face me.  He smiled.  A very polite, well-constructed and polished smile.  He said nothing and waited for me to speak.
"You have to be home at a certain time?"  
"Nine o'clock.  The residence, they lock the doors right then."  
"And you live close by?" 
"Right around the corner.  Though I have to stop someplace.  It's on the way, though.  On the other side of the street.  Then I have to get to where I'm staying..."  He started to babble then.  Giving me all the details he had.  He glanced at my hands like he expected me to pull out something and take down notes.  
I raised my hand.  He paused in his rendition.  “If you want, I can wait here until your sandwich is done and bring it to you.  You won’t have to worry about getting home in time.”  
He paused again.  He smiled again, though this time it was a bit twisted to one side and broader.  It suited his face better.  
"Oh.  Thank you.  No...  That'll be fine."  
"You sure?"  
He took a moment to think about it, then smiled again.  "No.  I'll be alright.  But, thank you."  He waved at me in an assuring sort of way.  I could go.  No problem. 
I left, wondering why I had done that.  Was it because the holidays, with its enforcement of "Good Cheer" were over and the act, now unexpected was contrary to normal behavior?  I’m all for acting contrary to how I’m expected to act.  
Or was it because, after the good day capping off a good week, I was feeling expansive and decided to share my good results and good fortune?  
Or did I just feel for the guy, because maybe his Philly Cheesesteak sandwich was the equivalent of my pizza and wine and I knew how disappointing it can be when you just Can't GET your Pizza and Wine?
Or was it... Was it because...  Deep down, I’m really a Nice...
No, no.  Not that.  It couldn’t be that.  By the time I got back to my apartment, I had gotten myself off the hook by telling myself I hadn’t actually done anything a Nice Guy would do.  Bike-Guy’s refusal had prevented me from crossing that threshold.  I had dodged a bullet. 
Because, once you start doing nice things for people you can’t stop.  You’ll find yourself greeting strangers.  Rescuing stray cats.  Helping old ladies cross the street when you really need to be hurrying to the bank at the corner before it closes to take of your business.  
While writing this entry, I overheard a couple sitting next to me at the Starbucks I was at wondering what to do about some letter they got from American Express.  As they were googling it, I offered to them that the office listed in Pasadena had actually moved to Glendale a few weeks ago.  They thanked me and left.  
I just didn’t want them coming back and bothering me with their talk about credit cards and stuff.  My time is mine.  Yeah.  Grrr, grrr.  It was for purely selfish reasons I helped them out.  


Blogger R Stouvenel said...

If it makes you feel any better you are not a nice guy. You are a narcissist.

There is that insurance commercial where one person does something kind for a stranger, then that person behaves in kind. It is passed on.

We compartmentalize our lives. At work you must be the boss. Does it matter if you are seen as scary? No, just the results. However, you feel for the employees' feelings... but, you cannot let that effect you.

You see the guy in the restaurant genuinely stressed out. You have been there. In that moment of time you don't need to hide your empathy. You open the compartment and offer to help... you have the time. You offered, he passed on the idea, you likely felt a little bit of relief, but you felt "good" about yourself for your kind efforts. You did it, because you instinctively knew you would feel better if you helped someone else.

Narcissism. It was in your best interests to try to help. Narcissism is not always a bad word/concept. You make work decisions, based on it, so that you will thrive financially. People "tithe" for their religions, because they are told to via "God." Some people give their own lives to save others, because they could not face the consequences of NOT taking that action. In the end we all make decisions based on what is best for us. Is this a bad thing? Nope, it is being human. And, if you rescue a cat, help a blind man across the street, donate to a charity, surprise a person with a gift, donate a kidney, offer to deliver food for a hungry guy, or simply wave a to a guy in car that he has the "right of way" it is a fortunate outcome of your narcissistic ways.

Fortunately for you, and persons around you, that some of your narcissism makes you look like a "nice guy." There are douches out there that are evil and all their narcissism demonstrates itself as... evil.

So, if someone thinks you are a nice guy... role with it and take the punch. Because, tomorrow, you will be the butt-head boss.

January 11, 2015 at 12:42 PM  

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