Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Spirit of the Holidays

No greater magnifying glass can be found hovering over human behavior than the first couple weeks after the New Years. (Some would say that it stretches back to early December, but I'd like to harbor a little hope.)
How many people hold doors for others the week before Christmas, in the "spirit of the holidays", that cut people off in traffic January 2nd? Why do people use the holidays as a crutch for acting nice? "Hey, it's Christmas, so I'll do something for another human being that I normally wouldn't DREAM of doing."
I think there's a subliminal reason for this. Flow with me, people. When we were little kids, we were told to be good, or we'd get coal in our stockings. If we were good, we'd get presents from Santa... After all, he knows if we've been bad or good. This is what most of us hear when we were really little. This is before we're actually taught to be good to other people for goodness sake. (Yeah, I really need to quit quoting Santa's Comin to Town.)

Problem is - more folks teach goodness with Santa than goodness just because. How many idiots did we know growing up? How many of them have bred? Do you really think they'll "get it together" and break the ignorant chain? Last time I helped Some Guy move, I read an article in the City Paper about a couple who let their baby die, because they kept forgetting to feed it, and because they watered down the baby formula to stretch it out a little bit more. Point is, these folks are *not* breaking that chain, and are in fact, instilling the same (de)values into their kids' behavior. However - all of those kids heading down the wrong path were still taught to be good for Santa.


When the holidays come around, people that aren't normally good turn the cheek and hold doors for folks, let the other car pass, etc. because "it's the holidays", which is the adult way of saying "Santa's watching me." Even though they don't believe in Santa consciously, that response to the jolly stimulus with the beard is instilled in them very early, and thusly, hard to break.

Then, from the 26th until New Year's Eve, people are filled with hope for "resolutions" on how they're going to improve their behavior over the next year. As if somehow, January 1st fills us with a new level of resolve. In reality, this is just people putting off the task of bettering themselves. I made a resolution to lose weight. I didn't make it last Saturday night. I made it three months ago, when I said "enough is enough", and my sweetheart expressed her concern. I've already lost 18 pounds, and I have 22 to go. My point is, every day is a new opportunity to make a resolution to improve yourself. Not waiting for the new year, or after you graduate high school, or when you get married, or as soon as you get pregnant, or some other *made up* deadline that just gives you more time to do what you naturally do, and ignore the fact that you're not doing what you think you should. This is why most New Year's resolutions have a two-week shelf life - because in fact, January 1st does *not* fill us with a resolve that wasn't there the day before. People with a natural reservoir of resolve have what it takes to stick it out, even when it gets hard. Anything you want to do that's worth something is going to be hard to do, or you wouldn't need a resolution, you'd do it already. Or did I miss folks saying, "This year I resolve to eat more chocolate, do my duty to support the cigarette economy by buying a carton a week, and see how long I can fool my wife into thinking I'm faithful."

Which brings me to my original point.

What would you do if you knew that you'd be the last person someone talked to before they died? More likely than not, the two of you wouldn't know each other. What would you do? You are the last piece of human contact this person will ever receive in this life. Would you send them off right? "Have a great day!", "Let me get that for you!", "Thank you so much!" Of course, we don't know when that situation will happen to us. Keep in mind that it happens every *second* of every day. It might happen to you, and you might never know it. It probably already happened to some of you. And some of you probably dropped the ball.

The other day, as I made a delivery (my second job is delivering pizza. No adult-film jokes, please.), I asked for the woman's credit card. She had made a purchase with it, and I needed to swipe it in my "swipey thingy" (that's the technical name for it, honest!). After fumbling around for five minutes, she brought it over. It was a debit card. To the same credit union I go to, Police and Fire Federal Credit Union. You can only be in this credit union if you or a family member is a member of Philly's Finest or Philly's Bravest. Keep this point in mind.
"May I see some ID?"
You'd've thought I asked her to let me take her first-born back to the store with me. (Who was a very cute little girl, dressed up as a princess. Aww..) "YOU DON'T NEED TO SEE MY ID!! IT'S A DEBIT CARD!!" I guess people don't steal folks' debit cards, and I don't need to perform this safety measure. Guess they just steal credit cards.
The situation degraded quite a bit from there. First she told me I needed to wait. She was on the phone with someone, and couldn't attend to me just yet. So I stood out there in the pouring rain. Good thing I had a hood. Then, after showing me HER BADGE and ID, she yelled at me for giving *her* attitude. She yelled at me to "shut up" when I was asking her why she felt the need to be so rude. She slammed the door in my face, requiring me to knock again, for a signature. (God forbid!) She slammed the door again, and I didn't bother asking for the second signature. (Next time folks, just pay cash.)
Yes, folks, this was one of Philly's Finest, showing me just how fine she could be. It was right then I conceived the idea for this article. What if right after that delivery, I died in a horrific accident on the way back to the store? Delivery drivers make lots more trips in their cars per day than most folks, and as Some Guy will agree, they also up their chances that one of those trips could be an accident, even a fatal one. How would Officer Jackhole feel knowing that she sent a human being off to the next whatever in such a fashion? How would you feel? This happened on January 2nd, folks.

So to wrap up - this world would run a little smoother if we all did our part to just look out for other people. Hold the door. Say hello. Smile at a stranger. Let someone ahead of you. Don't try to beat someone to the red light. You'll both have to wait anyway. Use your turn signal, even when you're not sure if you should. No one ever got pulled over for using their turn signal too much. Put your cart back in the cart caddy after you finish shopping. Someone else might care about their car's finish more than you do about yours. Don't drive across empty lanes of parking spots in a parking lot - drivers aren't expecting that kind of opposing traffic, it'd be like trying to dodge a car that came out of the middle of a block of rowhomes. When you're waiting in the line at the bank, say hello to someone who's just standing there. Ask them how their day is. You'd be surprised at the gems of wisdom you might get from asking the right person the right question. A gem you can take with you, even if you never see that person again. I learned once to never let someone else's bad attitude or poor behavior dictate my mood for the rest of the day. I easily could've chewed out my coworkers, girlfriend, or mother after dealing with Officer Jackhole. I didn't, though. Remember, each day living above ground is better than living below it, and it's up to you to make it a great one. Some people laugh at the end of my voice mail, when I tell folks to "Make it a great day." But in the end, it's true - whether or not you feel good at the end of the day is solely contingent on how *you choose* to respond to the challenges you faced that day, however trying.

Take it from E.T.: "BE GOOD."

Some Guy tells me about 40 people read this blog. Do me a favor - if you enjoyed this, if it made you think, please show this to at least one person in your life that otherwise wouldn't see it. And if they feel the same way, tell them to show it to someone in their life. Maybe we can spread the idea that you should be good just because it's the right thing to do. Not because of a fear of coal. And what goes around comes around - one of my coworkers, who is a flagrant racist despite being a minority, had her brand new car stolen Christmas Day.
Will she learn? Probably not. Will you?

Happy New Year's, everybody.
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