Dividends

Being nice to everyone all of the time is not easy.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s not possible.  I’ve made a conscious effort to be nice to the people that I have the most troubles with, and that’s a bit easier – I’m inclined to be an asshole when I see/hear/interact with these people, and I can use that inclination as a trigger to force myself to act nice.

It’s much more difficult to remember to always be nice to those that I actually like though.

It’s a bit of a paradox, true.  I have reversed my actions, and I’m being nice to people that I dislike 100% of the time, but to those that I actually care about, my actions have been largely unchanged – perhaps even worse for the effort required to be nice to those for whom I carry disdain.

I’m making the effort though.  Most of my interactions are with my family – within which I include my girlfriend – and my coworkers.  Some of my coworkers are friends – some of them I like, but because I see them less frequently, it’s easier to remain nice to them.  It’s really my family, especially my girlfriend, that is suffering from this.

I’ve been doing better this week than I was last week, and I will continue to do better and better as the new forms of action become more commonplace for me, and watching that transformation take place in myself is fascinating.

The dividends are slow in coming though.

My boss is every bit as bad as she has ever been.  If anything, she is still greedily consuming my goodwill and extra effort for her own selfish ends.  She has gone so far as to personally take credit for my work in a couple of cases, which should make me incensed, but I’m able stand apart and realize that this will eventually be her undoing.  Eventually, someone is going to ask her to explain all of this amazing work that she is managing to turn out, and she won’t be able to because she did none of it herself, and does not even understand what it is that I did.  So, her options at that point will either be to give me the credit I really deserve in a rather public assignation, or to bury herself deeper in lies that will eventually end up exposing her.

I suppose I’m giving her all the figurative rope that she can ask for, and she’s tying the noose herself…

But there are some areas of my life that are being improved by this new strategy.

While I’m not as successful as I would like to be in employing these tactics at home, I can think of a couple of recent interactions where I forced myself to say something when I would have normally brooded in silence.  The immediate and short term discomfort that this causes is generally more than offset by the long term gains, but those can sometimes be difficult to foresee.

And yet, I’m often subtly reminded of the improvements that this can bring about in my interactions with strangers…

Today, I decided that I needed to spend some more time at my desk.  I’ve been out of the office a lot lately, and while I am often more productive when I’m not in the office, there is still something of a stigma attached to not be Butt In Seat with middle management.  So – I walked over to Subway to get a sandwich for lunch and with the intent of eating it at my desk.

I’m a bit of a nerd, in case this wasn’t clear by now.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when restaurants charge you tax on transactions that are not legally taxable.  It’s a sneaky practice and it’s illegal and it occasionally makes me angry.  Usually their accounts payable people are smart enough to figure out the discrepancies before they submit their taxes to the state, so it amounts to an extra bonus for the franchise owner – stolen from people who are not awake enough to notice or who don’t know they’re being taken advantage of.

So, back to Subway.  They make sandwiches.  Sometimes they toast them, but I don’t usually like my sandwiches toasted, so I always ask them not to.  The law states that you cannot charge sales tax, eat-in tax, or any other kind of tax on fresh food, prepared without heat, for consumption off of the premises.  I ordered the daily deal sandwich.  It was advertised as $6.00.  I did not get it toasted, and I indicated that I wanted my sandwich, and only the sandwich – no meal deal – to go.

The clerk asked me for $6.52.

Two weeks ago, I would have been belligerent and asked to speak to the manager right away, probably leveled some cold, hard anger at him or her and refused to pay the $0.52 surcharge that was illegally levied at me.

But I didn’t.

I consciously put on my best smile (which isn’t all that great, actually.. I have Resting Bitch Face in spades.. in fact, as a younger man I used to wear glasses with no prescription to the lenses merely to soften the appearance of my face when dealing with people) and I turned it to her in the highest smile power wattage I could manage and said, “I’m sorry, miss, but I believe that you may have made a mistake.  I ordered the daily deal and my transaction should be exactly $6,” just as I handed her a five dollar bill and a single.

She was not quite on the same page that I was with regards to the ideals of being nice to people.

I understand it.  She works in retail with lines of hungry people and was probably suffering from low blood sugar herself, seeing as how this was near the end of the lunch rush, and she probably had to delay her own lunch to take care of all of ours.

Whatever her reasons, her response to me was a bit angry, and while I am paraphrasing, I bet you can get the idea.  “No, dipstick, the sandwich is on special but you still have to pay tax, and you owe me $0.52 or you can’t have your frakking sandwich.”

Apparently she raised her voice enough when she responded to me to attract the attention of the manager, because she started walking towards us as I began my response.

“Gosh, okay… well, this is certainly not worth fighting over and there are others in line here who would probably like to pay for their own sandwiches and get on with their day, but I do feel compelled to inform you that you are breaking the law.  I ordered a sandwich which was not toasted and which I am going to consume off site, so you are not obligated to or allowed to charge me for any tax.”  And as I said this, I handed her another single.

“I didn’t toast it,” was her clipped response as she angrily grabbed at the bill that I was proffering.

“Pardon me?” was my super-eloquent reply, because I didn’t really understand why she was telling me that she didn’t toast my sandwich.  I knew it wasn’t toasted.  I ordered it un-toasted, and I watched the process closely.  In retrospect, I think that she just didn’t understand me and was responding to the one thing that she did understand.

“I said that I didn’t frakking toast your frakking sandwich!”

And then her manager tapped her on the shoulder and told her to go to the back.  The manager gave me back my money, apologized for the behavior of her employee, and stated that I was, of course, correct, and that the cost of my sandwich should have been exactly $6, but that I should take my money and the sandwich with her apologies and hopes that I would return on another occasion.

So I did.

I feel bad for the clerk.  She’s probably going to be dressed down pretty badly, assuming that she gets to keep her job, and it was certainly never my intention that anyone get reprimanded or fired.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t say anything at all.  I’d just forfeit the $0.52 and try to maintain harmony as much as possible.  I certainly don’t need the $0.52.  I waste money in other ways that I’m sure drive people around me insane.  To make such a big deal over less than a buck seems like a real travesty, but it’s not the money that was the issue.

The whole unfortunate event occurred because I was raised to be a Libertarian.  I’m not now, and I don’t really identify with that former version of myself in any way, but there was a time when the government represented the biggest obstacle in my life, and the idea of paying a tax that they were not entitled to collect still sticks in my craw sometimes.

With the physical pain and sleep deprivation and emotional agony that I’ve been going through lately, it’s old vestigial instincts like that one that end up derailing my bliss, and it almost happened again, but I avoided it, and I even got a free lunch out of the deal.

But that clerk certainly did not.

I suspect that she was not informed of the distinction between times when one may and when one may not charge tax, so she was probably justified in feeling upset that I was telling her how to do her job, but she did not have to react with the bile that she did, in the very same way that I would be most likely to do myself, if I were in her shoes.

Likewise, if I’d taken my usual approach, I might have been able to get the $0.52 refunded, but I would have ended up in a foul mood and fouling the mood of at least two other people in the process.

It’s perhaps only stepwise progress, but I’ll take it, and hold on to it as evidence that I’m not completely on the wrong path.

I have to be vigilant.  Everything there is will try to steer me back to the old, familiar, and comfortably miserable path that I’ve been on and off of throughout my entire life.

The dividends are here, they’re just hard to see sometimes, and sometimes there is a price to be paid.

I’ll gladly pay the price to be happy when I can though.

Happiness makes everything better.

3 thoughts on “Dividends”

  1. First of all, your comments about having “resting bitch face” cracked me up.

    Secondly, I was a retail a manager for 15 years. Yes, retail can be wicked tough, particularly if you are one of the front liners. That said the clerk is a customer service representative. It is her job to treat you well. In 15 years I only had a single employee lose it like that and yell a profane epitaph. He was fired on the spot. It is admirable that you were empathetic towards her, but in no way was her behavior justified. I don’t care if you work at McD’s or Neiman Marcus, it is never acceptable to yell or swear at your customers.

    Lastly, your mission to change your social behaviors and how you described that made me think you might find one of my favorite authors (15 years in retail…at a bookstore) interesting. Brene Brown. She also does Ted talks. She speaks about courage, failure, boundaries, and resilience. Her books have been amazingly helpful to me. I am also working to positively change how I interact with people. Not people I dislike , but members of my family.

    1. I remember reading this comment back when you originally wrote it, and I appreciated it very much even then – I’m not quite sure why I didn’t respond, but thank you very much. I read books like most people breathe and I hadn’t remembered to look for Brene Brown then, but I certainly shall now.

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