The Little Things

This is a general plea to parents around this nation and the world at large.

We need to teach our children to pay attention to the little things.  I recognize that this world is difficult and that our time is limited and that we need to work more than we used to because taxes and fees take too much of our income and college tuition looms on the horizon and any of a hundred things forces us to work harder for the same relative pay.  I know it’s easier said than done to get your kids to listen to you when you emphasize the small niceties when other parents don’t teach their children the same lessons and they end up on the short end of the stick while more aggressive, ruder kids get whatever they want.  But we have got to fight our inner skeptic/pessimist and stand for a better world, and it’s just not enough to make sure your kid doesn’t do drugs or get prematurely pregnant or get into fights or break the law.  Those things are important, but we, as a nation, are forgetting just how important manners are…and it’s making all of us miserable and angry and cruel.

This was my day today, as measured in typical Long Island rudeness.

  • Woke up to find that my housemate had covered the bathroom floor in water (likely while he was getting dried off) instead of toweling off while still in the tub and then putting his towel down before he got out of the shower (something I always…ALWAYS…do)…forcing me to change my socks again (they were fresh…I had just put them on the previous night before bed).
  • On the way out the door, I encountered five (!) straight cars running the stop signs on my street, the last of which annoyed me enough that I walked out right in front of him and held up my hands to stop him.  He beeped at me.  For forcing him to obey the law long enough for me to get across the road to my friend’s car to get to work.
  • While driving to work, we were nearly run off the road because a guy on his f***ing cell phone tried to change lanes while we were next to him.
  • We had to park behind our department in the dirt lot on the opposite side of South Campus because dental school students (whose lot is partially under construction) feel that they should be allowed to park illegally rather than do what they’re supposed to do and park at South P Lot and take the 2-minute bus ride back to South Campus (the shuttle that passes South P every five friggin’ minutes).
  • Twenty minutes after I got to work, the custodian bugged us again asking to borrow money (he is completely incapable of managing his money and always comes seeking assistance…my office mate and I were both dumb enough to help him in the past and now we’re his bank).  Feeling obliged once again to lend him money, I handed him a ten, because when we say no, he grumbles at us like we’re un-Christian for refusing to offer charity at his command.
  • An hour later, a group of at least seven SoMAS (my department) students and their adviser felt the inexplicable need to stop in the lobby right outside my office door and have a conversation for fifteen minutes at about 100 decibels about their next lab meeting.  Why they couldn’t have that conversation outside or in their lab is anyone’s guess, but I finally got up and politely asked them to leave.  My girlfriend informs me that if I make a habit of asking for quiet in the hall outside my door, I’ll be seen as an ogre, for some reason.
  • When I went to lunch, it was very crowded at the local cafe and a mob of dental school students (and one professor) refused to stand in a single-file line, were badgering the employees about the lack of prepared lunch specials and three of them cut in line at the invitation of their friends (who were ahead of me).  I don’t care if all you want is a coffee or a cup of soup, you don’t get to cut in line just because your order is simple.  Even Steve (the guy at the counter) was annoyed at the constant line-cutting and mob-mentality of the dental school patrons…especially since they are rude to him when he doesn’t get their orders instantly.  Some of the professors are even known to simply walk behind the counter and fill their own drinks and throw money at Steve to pay for them because God knows…they’re too important to stand in line for ten minutes.  After the third person cut me…they had the gall to look at me and my office mate and simply say “sorry, we’re line-jumping,” and then place their orders.
  • The mob at Chock Full of Nuts was so disorganized that it was nearly impossible to walk back out of the store after I got my food and when I said “excuse me” to the customers in my way they’d move, but give me the stink eye for daring to interrupt their conversation.  To which I finally snapped and barked back “Let’s try standing single file and delaying those all-important circular conversations until you’re out of the store, OK?”  And then put my head down and rammed my way through the crowd like a offensive lineman through would-be tacklers (the Japanese would call this the Gaijin Slam).  Yes…it was rude of me…but this is what happens!  You act rudely to me all day and eventually, I’m going to lose my temper!
  • But of no…it’s not over!  About 3 PM, our self-important fellow SoMAS grad student from the chemical oceanography program (whose name I will omit for her sake because I’m not rude) showed up to talk our ear off four nearly half an hour even though all three of us in the office clearly had our heads down and were trying to work.  My nerves having already been weakened by the constant barrage of rudeness, I finally exited, lying that I was going to the bathroom, and went to kick rocks around in the woods behind South Campus for a few minutes to relax.  The only way I was going to avoid yelling at this girl for constantly thinking only of herself and her emotional needs and not respecting that this is a workplace environment and we have things to do.
  • And…on the way home, I saw the campus police had someone pulled over and they were out of their car red-faced and screaming at the poor officer for daring to give them a ticket.  This didn’t affect me directly, but it certainly is emblematic of everything that is wrong with Long Island in particular and this country in a more general sense.
I spent the majority of my day feeling stressed and unhappy because a collection of oblivious, privileged, self-absorbed people didn’t know enough about observing basic manners to make me feel like I was living in a civil society.  Each incident couldn’t be observed as anything more than a little thing…a small injury at best…and there are people out there who have better self-discipline than I do who can take all of these things in stride and not react.  But we’re creating a selfish, brutal world the longer we fail to teach our children that manners matter, that rules exist for a very real reason, and that what they do affects other people in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.
Every decision we make has a consequence.  When you can’t be bothered to endure a little mist while smoking your cigarette and therefore light up right outside the door, you may not notice it, but there’s a good chance you’re darkening someone else’s day just a little – someone like me who has a mild allergy to smoke.  When you toss your garbage out the window of your car, you figure…it’s just a little thing.  But the guys who do roadside clean-up pick up thousands of pieces of litter daily that amount to far more than a little inconvenience.  When you feel that your conversation at a local cafe or in a school corridor is more important than the free movement of others nearby and so stand in a wide circle blocking the path, people may find ways around you, but there’s a good chance many of them are annoyed and spend the next minute or two with a negative emotion…maybe it makes them more prone to fail to notice someone who needs the door held for them.  Maybe it causes them to say something unkind or fail to answer a greeting in the hall.  The little things add up.
I don’t think I have some unusual level of rage…I think I’ve developed into a person with a reasonable level of emotional maturity and poise overall.  But I spent a huge chunk of my day unhappy because of the little things.  I beg you all…teach your children to care about others and to be conscious of their actions.  It just takes persistence and consistency from you…it doesn’t even take a lot of time each day to reinforce this message.
Thank you.

5 thoughts on “The Little Things

  1. Did you let Mom and Dad know that you already have a Kindle Fire? Because I think they were planning on getting both of us Fires for Christmas.

    Also: Yes, Amy Alkon's book is available on Kindle.


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