Pick It Up, Sunshine

If we ever meet upon a street, me in my car and you on your feet and you are desirous of crossing said street and I wave you across then, at that moment, you may actually learn something about me. On the other hand, you may not learn anything at all. It depends largely on how you conduct yourself  as you cross the street in front of me.

If you cross speedily with perhaps a small grateful acknowledgement to me, the ever-so-polite driver, then you won’t really learn anything about me at all. A painless transaction will have simply taken place, one which was beneficial to both parties with regard to expeditiousness and general bonhomie. We both move on unaltered by the experience.

End of story.

But supposing it goes another way? Supposing you take the opportunity to cross the street but you do it more slowly than you could, with no care or regard for the driver who so kindly stopped to let you cross?  We’re on the learning curve then, mate. Or supposing you’re some droop-trousered post-pubescent acne-sporter who takes the opportunity to glare menacingly into the car at me as you drag yourself across the thoroughfare? You are in danger of learning a lesson then too, mega-star.

The lesson is that the nice guy who just waved me across the street is maybe not-so-nice after all because now he's glaring and snarling at me out of his window and he almost looks as if he might do me bodily harm if he got out of his car.

What you will have seen is a demonstration of one of my very worst personality traits. One which I have identified over time and which I am trying, rather unsuccessfully, to improve upon.

It’s this.

I like to do nice things for people. I often go out of my way to do them. I’ll carry your bags or help you reverse your car into that parking space or give you copious directions to the petrol station. No problem.  My pleasure. “The man’s a bloody saint,” you might well be saying as I vanish over the horizon but I’m not, I’m bloody not at all.  I seem to crave some acknowledgement for my little good-deeds, that’s the trouble. If I do something for you and you don’t say a little ‘thank you’ then I can become quite annoyed… and you wouldn’t like me when I’m annoyed. If I had been Jesus (a stretch, granted) and had cured those ten leper fellas and only one of them had come back to say a quick ‘cheers mate’ then I would have tracked the other nine down and I would have kicked their newly-lily-whited-arses for them. Maybe not quite but you get the gist of what I’m saying.

It’s not an attractive trait. I’m working on it, like I said, but it’s pretty deeply ingrained.

This ‘crossing the road’ thing is the most basic demonstration of it, I think. People need to get across the road and, on our main street in town, there aren’t too many formal crossings and the cars keep coming-and-coming so, if you’re standing there waiting, I’ll probably stop and wave you over. A little nod and a  smile and we are goddamn friends for goddamn life. But walk-slow, preen, strut, stop in the middle of the road for a look-around and, although I won’t say anything directly to you, I will now suddenly be seething, Basil-Fawlty fashion, behind my steering wheel.  “Pick it up sunshine, come on come on come on, for fuck’s sake, is that the best you can bloody do?”  Stuff like that, beneath my bated breath, behind my clenched teeth. My moment has been ruined by an unknown person’s inability to reciprocate my largely-unsolicited kindness.

Now that I’m older, the rather-obvious solution to this problem has suddenly become quite clear to me. Both metaphorically and figuratively speaking, I have got to stop letting so many people across my road. If I’m only going to let you across then hate you when you fail to acknowledge my kindness, then it is better that I don’t actually let you across at all.  Better that you go your way (or not, as the case may be) and I go mine and we simply do not get involved with each other.

Sometimes, I now realise, particularly in the smaller affairs of our lives, it may be better to ‘never have loved at all’ than to have ‘loved and lost’.

If you see what I mean.


William Gallagher said...

Um, thank you for writing this blog.


Ken Armstrong said...

Haha. Now I know one person has read it. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

I think altruism is a great idea. That said I don’t believe that humans are capable of it. We fake it, we smile in the face of adversity, but, as you demonstrated here, we all expect a little something back. I don’t drive anymore. I do, however, hold doors open for little old ladies, pretty young ladies, middles-aged ladies… basically anyone who appears even vaguely female-looking and any frail old man who looks as if he might not have the strength to even open the door himself. I am happy to do so and all I am looking for in return is a smile. Even eye contact will do. A verbal acknowledgement is a bonus but I hate those women who simply breenge through without paying me a blind bit of attention. That’s just plain rude. I don’t get it. I am a nice person. I have no doubts that I am a nice person but every now and then it behoves me to just double check. And so I hold door open and say, “Ladies first.” (Little girls get a particualr kick out of this and generally scurry through giggling.) Little old men I find are invariably civil.

I have yet to give in to the urge to call out (or even mumble to myself), “Manners cost nothing,” but believe you me the urge is strong. So I know exactly where you’re coming from here. Of course they can argue that they didn’t ask me to hold the door for them and so are under no obligation to me. That’s like saying to your mum that you didn’t ask to be born. Tried that once. Learned my lesson. I didn’t ask her to clout me either.

Ken Armstrong said...

Ah Jim, when I'm on the same page as you, I always feel I'm doing okay. Thanks.

hope said...

Like you, I tend to be more of a "giver" than a "taker". I think it's only human to be kind to a stranger, then feel a bit disappointed when they appear to think the world owes them the easy way through life.

But I was raised a girl...in the south. We're not allowed to hurt people's feelings. Or so I hear. :) I look at it this way: a case of taking the higher road and not coming down to the level of souls who can't see anyone else in the world but themselves.

That said, you do have to be careful in the south if you try to hold a door for a gentleman of a certain age...say old enough to be your Dad or Grandpa. I did so once for an older man (who looked about 95) because I was taught to look behind me before letting a door go in public and besides, the door weighed a ton without the wind that was blowing. He went through, then grimaced at me. I have no idea why, except for preserving his dignity, I said sweetly,"Didn't you hear? It's be nice to gentlemen day!"

He laughed all the way down the hall, mumbling he had something to tell the wife.

So I continue to be kind in his honor...because you never know when a simple act of kindness might've helped someone turn a good corner in life.

If you stopped for me, I would smile AND wave thanks. :)

MummaDoc said...

Completely and utterly identified with this, Ken. But I think your conclusion is wrong. You're RIGHT to be annoyed if someone won't acknowledge a kindness. They are wrong. And to stop performing acts of kindness because some people are wrong, would be wrong, and a backward step for humankind. If you see what I mean.

I suggest you do what I do. Wind the window down and shout 'Aren't you even going to say 'thank you' you ignorant f**cking f**cker?!'

Then hit the gas.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Hope, I like your story about the old gent and the door. You handled that pretty darned well. :)

Mummadoc: You're the sanest person I know. I hear you.

Karen Redman said...

Oh yes; I am all for being polite but I do like a smile or a wave of acknowledgement. If someone lets me into a queue of traffic I always flash my hazard lights to say thank you. I'm with MummaDoc on vociferously pointing out to a recipient of any of my kindnesses that they've failed to match up to my fairly humble expectations. That & a heavy foot on the accelerator as I'm only little & scare easily! ;)