I began my professional career on my twenty-third birthday, and suddenly people began referring to me as Mister Herd. I had so recently been merely a college student that being addressed as a grownup was like being promoted, even though I started at the very bottom.
I liked it. And I was so thrilled about having the job and calling other adults—now my colleagues—by their first names, that I was shocked—really appalled!—to discover a surprisingly childish senior co-worker. Up until that point, all the other adults in my life—my parents, relatives, scout leaders, teachers, professors and others of any influence—had all been worthy examples of what it meant to be a grownup. But here now was another Adult, older than I was, who behaved like a spoiled brat!
I was truly astonished! (Maybe my experience is rarer these days. Nightly conditioning to such behaviors is now available through most TV sitcoms and so-called “reality” programming. It not only trains us in The Way Life Really Is, it’s “entertainment” too!)
In the years since, I’ve come to meet many other all-purpose whiners, selfish crybabies, garden-variety bullies, stab-in-the-back gossips, self-important arrogant snots, and other just-plain-nasty tyrants.
Anyway, I got over it, to some degree. As a friend remarked to me during one onslaught by the Staff Problem-Child, “life’s too short to be sucked into this.” And he was right. So what. Let the guy be a jerk; it’s his choice, anyway. I don’t have to be, and I won’t be dragged down to his level.
Lofty words. And worthwhile intentions. But what if this dolt isn’t merely an easily ignored acquaintance or co-worker from another department? Suppose he or she is your immediate supervisor, or major client, or the pain-in-the-neck you’ve been assigned to work with on your final project? What then?
My Dad was an independent insurance agent, and he had his office in our house. As a teenager, I was in the adjoining room one day when an irate client stormed in. He was blowing his stack quite loudly over some decision the insurance company had made, and taking it out on Dad, even though he had nothing to do with it, nor could do anything about it.
Well! Just overhearing this guy rant got me seething in the other room. How dare he barge in here like that! I almost barged in on him to give him the fight he was looking for! (I could be a hothead myself sometimes.)
Instead, I stood there on the other side of the wall and witnessed how Dad listened to him, and responded to him calmly and rationally. I heard him call the company right there and then for him and see if they could resolve the issue. I saw him handle the man and his concerns firmly and fairly, with respect and dignity, and ultimately diffuse an ugly situation. From that vantage point, I watched my Dad model the way to treat other people, in spite of their own ill manners or graces, or even according to such stirred-up passions as my own outrage.
So I try to remember that. Is it easy? Not to me it isn’t. Sometimes my druthers are to drop-kick people like that Fast and Hard. It still amazes me though, whenever I meet such selfish blockheads. What causes this kind of arrested development? It’s especially curious when the person is obviously intelligent, talented, perhaps even gifted, but can only see the world through I-sized eyes.
I don’t have an answer for that. But that’s the kind of world we live in, and there’s always going to be some Maturity-Free Grownups around to enrich our lives.
Meanwhile, I’m reminded of what another Father teaches: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
And hopefully we can all get along in the same sandbox…