I had a friend once ("had" is an operative word here) who spent the first half of his adult life being a doormat to his (admittedly) selfish and domineering wife. He eventually got out of that marriage (which is ok), but shortly after that he came to a startling conclusion, that just because he was such a softie for so long, he should switch to being a complete ass and not caring what anyone thinks or feels at all. No matter how hard I tried to reason with him that improving his life was not about going from one extreme to the other but rather finding a balance between the two, he refused to accept this concept. Apparently, being a thoughtless careless jerk looked easier. So, that was how he became a former friend.
We can't all be Mother Teresa - laying our entire lives on the line for the benefit of others. We can't all be heroes. We can't all save the world - well, perhaps not the entire world all at the same time. However, this doesn't mean that we can't do small things to make someone's better or (at the very least) to not make someone's day worse. There are small, nearly effortless things we can do, that might not seem like a big deal, but that actually leave a lasting impression. And who knows whose life might change, because you opted to be a little nicer that day?
On the road...
- If you are driving slow - that is completely fine - but please get into the slow lane. You can usually tell that you are not flowing with the traffic, when there is a long line of cars "stacked" behind you on the highway, one of them occasionally whipping around to pass you on the left or on the right.
- If you are driving fast and you are in a slow lane, don't tailgate the person in front of you. Yes, that driver is going slower than you, but he or she is already in the slow lane - there is nowhere else to go. So, don't tailgate or flash your headlights, just go around.
- Tailgating in general is not a good idea (and using tailgating to terrorise a slower driver in front of you is just plain idiotic). There is a reason for the recommended following distances between cars at certain speeds. Traffic can and will stop suddenly. If your breaks are not up to snuff or your reaction is a tad slow, you will hit the car in front of you, and the accident will be your fault. Aside from endangering yourself and others, you will also be facing higher insurance premiums and possibly a ticket for reckless driving.
- Speaking of reckless driving... Please, don't go zipping across three lanes of traffic when you get on the highway or to get off at your exit. Wherever you are going cannot be so important as to endanger your life and the lives of others. If you know your exit, it's not going to kill you to get into the slow lane a little earlier so that you don't miss it. And if you do - the world is not going to collapse, I promise! Just take the next exit and turn around.
- Turn on your turn signal before switching lanes or turning. Other people are not telepaths - they don't know where you are going. Incidentally, turning on your blinker when you are already halfway into the other lane does not count as adequate warning.
- When traffic is slow and someone is sitting in the lane next to you with their turn signal on, clearly trying to get into your lane, please let that person in. The traffic is already slow - neither one of you is going anywhere particularly fast. So, it's not as if you are going to save any time by not letting someone into the lane ahead of you.
- While more modern cars have better mirrors that almost eliminate the blind spot, it is still a good idea to check before changing lanes. And if you do have an older car, then glancing into your blind spot is a must - you can fit a small elephant there, let alone another car.
- If you absolutely must talk on the cell phone in your car, fine. Get a head set. We have the technology. They do exist.
- Robin Williams said it best, "Texting and driving at the same time is like jerking off and juggling at the same time - there are just too many balls in the air."
- If you have a truck, please secure whatever you have in the back (including trash). And regardless of what car you drive, have a trash bag in your car - do not use sides of the road (and yards of people who live along the road) as your trash despository.
- This might come as a shock, but there is actually not a lot of people interested in how loud your car or motorcycle engine is, how big are your speakers or what you have on your latest music list, or even in the fact that your car horn can plany Dixie or Stars And Stripes. There are even fewer of those who are interested in any of those things at 4:00 a.m.
- Use one parking space - especially in a crowded lot or garage. If you realize that you didn't park quite straight, and there is not enough room for another car on one side of you (or for another driver or passenger to get in and out), just pull out and re-park - it takes a minute. If your car is long, please pull forward as far as you can, so that other drivers don't have to dodge the tail end of your car as they try to park.
Out and about
- Whether you are closing the biggest deal of your life or breaking up with your significant other, do other people really need to know about it as you yell and scream on the cell phone? If the caller catches you somewhere outdoors or someplace noisy, politely ask if you could call back in 15-20 minutes when you've had a chance to get to your office or home.
- Texting and walking... Read above re: Robin Williams on texting and driving.
- If a building you are going into has a revolving door and a handicapped door with an automatic switch, please use the revolving door, unless you are actually handicapped. An automatic handicapped door opens slowly, stays open for a while, and then closes just as slowly in order to let through a person in a wheelchair. Having those is a considerate thing to do. However, seeing perfectly able-bodied individuals use handicapped doors because they are too lazy to walk extra five feet is disheartening.
Revolving doors keep the inside air in and outside air out. So, when it's cold - they conserve heat, and when it's hot - they conserve cool air, thus saving on heating and cooling. Revolving doors are environmentally friendly, so use them as such.
- Stash your trash. If you are not sure whether there are going to be trash cans wherever you are going, but want to bring a sandwich and a bottle of water, bring a plastic grocery bag to put your trash into and throw away, when you finally find a trash bin.
- Yes, absolutely, your children are the most adorable beautiful creatures in the world. However, that doesn't mean that everyone will find them so - especially when they get cranky in the middle of a movie theater or a restaurant. I am not implying that young parents should just lock themselves in for the first five years of their child's life and never go anywhere - not at all.
Sit down and figure out all the ways you could break away and have fun without the little ones (a hint - don't think why it can't be done, think how it can be done). Take turns: this Friday your spouse gets to go out with friends while you babysit, next week you get to do that. One parent is capable of keeping his or her children alive for a couple of hours. For "together" outings, work with friends, family, siblings or even other parents you work with. Make bargains. Offer favors. If you let another couple have their movie date this week, they'd be happy to do the same for you next week. Asking for help is not stupid and is not a waste of time. At worst, people will just say no, and you'll be no worse off than you were before you asked.
- If you have an adorable dog, reconcile with the fact that a lot of people will want to pet it. If you are not comfortable with that, don't just stand there and glare at them, but say politely, "I am sorry, I am just not comfortable with other people giving too much attention to my dog."
- If you see someone with their arms full of bags struggling with a door, help them out. Hold the elevator if someone is just running up and is clearly in a hurry.
- When dining out, make a point of asking and remembering your waiter's name. Dale Carnegie said, "If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance." While you may not necessarily be trying to be friends with your waiter, remembering his or her name will go a long way toward getting better service. And honestly, how would you feel if someone addressed you as, "Hey you!"?
- Some things are just not attractive, regardless of your intelligence or heart of gold. The list includes: body odor, dirty hair and nails, dirty wrinkled clothes and shoes, missing buttons, torn seams, falling hems, sweat stains, cigarette breath, etc. All these things say that either you don't care about yourself, or you don't care how others perceive you or both.
Look at yourself carefully and ask yourself why you are being so careless with your appearance? No, you don't have to look like George Clooney dressed up for the Oscars. And you don't have to match the height, size and weight of the latest super-model. Just be you - but a better-dressed, cleaner, tidier you. People will notice. Those who love you will not only notice but rejoice at the sight of the new you. This is when you kill two birds with one stone - you are being nicer to yourself and to those around you.
- Don't write all over a library book. If there are pages missing or if someone else before you left pen and pencil marks all over the book, let the librarian know that the book needs to be repaired or replaced.
- If you rent a car or borrow your friend's car, return it reasonably clean and with full tank.
- Returns borrowed gardening tools, weed eaters, mowers, tractors, etc. clean and undamaged.
- Leave your picnic spot nice and trash-free for the next visitor.
- Do your best not to trash your rental apartment - someone else has to live there after you.
- If your best friend had loaned you a piece of clothing for a special event, and you accidentally tore or stained it, own up to the fact and offer to pay for dry cleaning, repairs or replacement.
- I personally do my utmost to not mix money and relationships. However, if for some reason you borrow money from a friend or a family member, repay it within a reasonable amount of time (your lifetime is not a reasonable amount of time). If you realize that you cannot return all of the money at once, be honest about it and set up a payment plan just as you would with a bank or a credit card.
- If a friend or a relative let you use a cabin or a summer home, keep it neat while you are there and do a good clean-up before you leave.
- Always, always, always send a "thank you" note or a card when someone does you a favor. Remember, while asking for help is perfectly fine and important, feeling as if you are entitled to favors from everyone at any time is not ok. That is why it's called a favor - someone is going out of his or her way to help you out. Show your appreciation.
Talk the talk, walk the walk...
- Be honest and consistent in your interactions with people. Don't switch your opinion to suck up to someone bigger and stronger. If are honestly persuaded to change your point of view, be clear about it and explain what convinced you.
- In an argument, stay on the issue and be respectful of the individual you are arguing with. Do not make assumptions or generalized statements. Just because a woman is in favor ot the "morning after" pill, doesn't mean she is promiscuous, or is a member of NARAL America, or is a liberal. Perhaps she is advocating the cause because she was a teenage mother or a victim of rape.
Just because someone is pro-gun, doesn't mean he is a Republican, or a fan of Charlton Heston, or has been brainwashed by NRA. Perhaps he is someone who has been attacked, or had his home broken into, or lost a friend to some thug and now feels more comfortable owning a weapon.
There are hundreds of reasons why someone might support a cause. Find out what those reasons are instead of dismissing the other person's opinion because it is contrary to your own, and buffeting your opponent with statistics (incidentally, the latter is particularly unwise if your opponent happens to be a part of those statistics: like a rape victim, someone who was robbed, someone who was discriminated against based on his or her race, gender or religion.) If your opponent insists on his or her standpoint, just agree to disagree in a civilized manner.
Saying things like, "Well, if you don't mind going to hell..." to conclude a religious argument, or "If you insist on propagating STD's and teenage pregnancies..." to conclude a discussion on birth control, or "If you don't mind becoming a murderer..." to conclude a gun control dispute - none of these are polite, gracious or civilized.
- Let your actions speak for themselves. You'd be surprised, how a small action that is inconsistent with your words can completely change someone's impression of you. Saying you care about the environment, and then tossing an empty can onto the sidewalk... Portraying yourself as a cosmopolitan, and then saying that all Canadians are slow, all French are rude and all British are snobs... Saying that you appreciate what a complex issue immigration is and then making derogatory statements about immigrant workers... You get the picture. Think before you speak and, more importantly, think before you do. No amount of pretty rhetoric will save your image, if your actions speak to the contrary.
Small thoughtful gestures may only impact one person. However, if that person decides to follow suit, and the next one, and the next one after that, we would have a potential of creating a world of thoughtful, respectful, considerate people. There would still be room for diversity and disagreement, but perhaps the differences would be accepted with greater tolerance and disagreements would gravitate further away from the fields of war.
P.S. Please feel free to share your own suggestions or stories of consideration and respect toward others.