Something To Ask Yourself: Are You A Donkey’s Behind?

May 27, 2010

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.
• Abraham Lincoln

I recently had an unpleasant encounter with a stranger who was supposed to be providing assistance. S/he-who-shall-remain-anonymous was being paid to provide said assistance. I was a customer. I’m supposed to be right, right? And really, there wasn’t anything to be right or wrong about except that I wanted a bit of attention from the person who was supposed to be taking my hard-earned cash in exchange for the goods s/he was selling.

The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.
• William Safire

This was too much to ask. I was an unwelcome interruption in a fascinating three-way cash register conversation involving a co-worker (on a break–s/he said so in a brief aside to me, as though to explain her/his lack of attention to my needs) and someone named Lee on a cell phone. Beer was involved. How much and who was bringing it. Tacos too. A houseboat. And much more, unfortunately too banal to report here. Had their three-way been interesting, I’d have gladly waited pretty much indefinitely.

Laws control the lesser man [or woman]. Right conduct controls the greater one.
• Chinese proverb

Instead, I waited patiently for several minutes before asking if it would be possible to exchange my money for their goods. The phone talker asked me if I couldn’t see that s/he was busy. Well, yes, I could see that s/he was otherwise occupied, but I could also hear that it wasn’t work-related.

You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.
• Robert Brault

Mark Twain said that “be yourself is about the worst advice you can give some people.” I used to have this quotation framed and hanging in my classroom. I believe in personal authenticity, but I also believe that if you are a donkey’s behind in your dealings with others, you might want to consider creating a nicer, more considerate self for public presentation. This is important at all times, but it’s especially important if you’re being paid to pay attention to the needs of others.

Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other “sins” are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not a sin – just stupid.)
• Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve written before about common sense and how I believe that it is misnamed because rational problem solving doesn’t always come naturally to people. Neither does considerate behavior. These things and many others need to be taught, and yes, I do know how busy schools already are. In my fantasy world, every child would learn many of life’s useful lessons at home before s/he ever entered a classroom and would arrive at school ready to learn and ready to be a delightful and productive classroom participant.

Every wrong seems possible today, and is accepted. I don’t accept it.
• Pablo Casals

I also know that there are crucial basic skills students need to leave school with, like the ability to figure out what ten percent off the regular price is if the calculator isn’t working (another important customer service attribute). Still, consideration for others is a basic skill of successful living and if we want to rid the world of donkey’s behinds, everyone’s got to help.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
• Henry David Thoreau

So. Are you a donkey’s behind? If you are, what are you going to do about it? If you aren’t, what’s your secret to maintaining civility in a world that seems to be increasingly uncivil and how can you share it with others?

If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustice of our fellows.
• Jean Baptiste Molière,
Le Misanthrope (1666, when, apparently, the good old days were not always good)


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