The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Power of Simple Courtesy

Simple Courtesy

Flying home from Phoenix to Ontario last week, I was sitting next to a couple of angry gentlemen who were...well...bearded, pierced, pumped up, covered with prison tats, constantly made seethingly derogatory comments about one's ex-wife, laughed about past instances of assault and battery, intractable life problems, and more. They seemed about to explode with violence. This was making the other passengers rather uncomfortable, I noticed. And since they were coming to my neck of the woods to live, I wasn't too happy about it, either. There were also a slew of barely veiled racial comments. Both were white, but one lived in "the 'hood" and his thoughts on his neighbors...well, let's just say that I suspect his language would have been a little more specific if I hadn't been sitting next to him.

I decided to see what I could do to chill these guys out, and pulled out my Ipad and started playing a game on it. Their eyes lit up. "That an Ipad?" one asked. "Yes, sir," I said, deliberately and with my most neutral body language extending courtesy. I showed it to them, watching their reactions and storing away information of which aspects of such a device were of interest. Not gaming--the older one was interested in business applications. He was trying to get a motorcycle detailing business off the ground. The other mentioned internet in Iraq, and I realized he was a vet. Inquiring obliquely, I verified that, and thanked him for his service to America.

It was amazing how fast they shifted. Language, body language, subjects, facial expressions, tonalities...everything became lighter, was amazing. They returned to speaking about their issues, but now...they were seeing solutions. And listening, some of them were rather good. Each of them was addressing the other's concerns, and I realized that they had formed an informal mastermind group. All that it required was the presence of someone who would treat them with respect, shift their mood with an entertaining toy/tool, and deal with them without fear or threat.
By the time we landed, it was all I could do to artfully avoid giving them my business card and arranging to meet for drinks. I watched them walk away, and they were friendly, considerate, and really quite charming to the other passengers, one of whom took me aside and thanked me for changing the mood. "What did you do?" she asked.

"Just assumed they were people," I said. "Had the sense it might have been a while." And that's the secret, you know. Assume the people you are dealing with are human beings, like you. When you do that, barriers fall. When that happens, they can help each other in profound ways. Each of us, at every moment, has the potential to make the world a better place through our own actions, when they express our deepest truths, and that truth is Love.

What can you do today?


Anonymous said...

This is a really great story, Steve. Goes into my top five "favorite martial arts annecdotes!"

Steve Lewis said...

This is something I totally agree with, Steve. I don't know if you remember or not, but I work as a server in a restaurant. A lot of times guests will come in and a server will say " Oh, don't waste your time, they tip horribly." Now the vast majority of the time the people who say this feel entitled to at least 20 percent so I think that's why they get a crap tip but that's besides the point. Most of the time I see it as a challenge to step up my game. And most of the time I get, at least, a decent tip.

I, actually, have one family that sits in my section on a fairly regular basis that tips me 30 percent that another server told always stifs him. This is weird because this guy is a solid server. I do know that he can be a little stuck up sometimes, so maybe that's why but still it's weird.

I always try to treat people with respect because I've had times when I could tell that servers didn't think that they'd be getting a good tip off me, so they wanted to 'turn' the table and get someone else in there. The funny thing is since I work in the industry and know how hard it can be sometimes, I usually tip at least 20 percent. I've even tipped 100 percent before (usually this has been when I'm eating alone but still a hundred percent on ten dollars is still a good tip).

Anyway, this is just a long winded way of saying good job, Steve. :)

Scott Masterton said...

I love this story Steve. Thanks for posting.


Bright Light Warrior Nika said...

I opened my email today and read this and had to share this with my friends on facebook, I also wanted them to share the awakening experience I get when I read your post Thank you so much for caring.

Nika Marie
(Bright Light Warrior Nika)

Website translation said...

The story is great. This is very common that it will get top five rank in favorite martial arts annecdotes.