Bad Days and Good

 There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” – Annie Dillard

I’m intrigued when two people engaged in the same endeavor or occupation provide entirely different responses to helping others. I’m not talking about the “bad day” we all experience, but rather a behaviorally consistent response (or the equivalent of every day is a bad day).

One receptionist will greet you with “Doctor’s Office, how may I help you?” while another demands, “Hold!” Why does one mail clerk smile, say “hello,” and take pains to find a better way to ship your package, while another orders, “Go over there and fill out those forms, then get back in line”?

I think it has less to do with the boss, the family, the environment, hormones, television, or ornery customers than we think. I suspect it’s about one’s worldview. I’ve found that some people are viscerally cynical, with deep-seated convictions that life is, in reality, a slow, deadly march through enemy territory. You can tell who they are because they have that attitude as soon as they arise before there’s any chance that something or someone has adversely affected them, and the new sunrise, the chirping bird, and the kid playing ball in the street are not nature’s signs of renewal and redemption but are rather intrusions and annoyances, endangering one’s defenses. These are the true misanthropes, who feel that their jobs would be better if it weren’t for the customers and life would be sweeter if there weren’t so much, well, life.

As the economists say, “On the other hand,” we have those people who see their awakening each morning, no matter what their condition, as better than the worst alternative, and who believe that existence demands mutual-supportiveness and civility. This has nothing to do with professions and everything to do with outlook. I’ve found nurses who were unsympathetic and needlessly cruel and police officers in riot gear who were unfailingly polite and respectful.

Californians and the English share a peculiar idiosyncrasy. If a visitor complains about the weather, the local person will immediately apologize, accepting full responsibility for nature’s unreliability. (In fact, Californians are often pre-emptive, apologizing for the weather before you even say “hello,” on the assumption that you have as much right to climatic perfection in the Golden State as you do to sand on a beach.) As I’ve considered that behavior, I’ve realized that it’s eminently logical: The apology costs nothing, and if it makes me and them feel better, why not?

If you feel the world is out to get you, it probably will. But if you believe that existence is largely what you make it, you’ll probably make out just fine. And if you manage to help someone else make out well along the way, that’s money in the bank of life.





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