One of the things I do in my new job is answering our “Hotline.” It’s a number people can call to report any potential or suspected illegal construction work being done in the city. Most of the calls I get are valid and require investigation. However, most of the calls I get are also from people being douchebags because their neighbor’s dog barks too much … or some shit. #WhyCantWeAllJustGetAlong
I also get a ton of general calls that need transferred to other departments. In our main phone tree, people hear the word “Compliance” and figure that since we are the “Bad Guys” we can help them. Sometimes I feel like we are the Building Department’s version of the Principals Office.
I recently received a message from an older gentleman who prefaced his entire message with two disclaimers: “I’m a veteran.” and “I’m 71 years old.”
His message was slightly rambling with a tiny touch of incoherence. I’m ashamed to say my initial response was to write him off as “crazy.” He didn’t identify an actual issue and just stated that someone was trying to “do him wrong” and that he needed help.
I’ve been in a two-day training session and haven’t had a chance to call him back yet, the message is sitting on my desk. But now that I’ve had a day or so to think about it, I was struck by something with this guy.
Why did he feel the need to qualify his entire request for help with these two facts? I’m a veteran. I’m 71 years old.
I realized a couple of things. First, I felt horrible for jumping to the conclusion that this was a crazy old guy who was just going to be a waste of my time. I had no reason to just assume that he would be a huge pain in my ass. #IKnowBetter
Secondly, what kind of society do we live in where a person feels like, in order to get some help, some common decency & kindness, he has to “prove” he was worthy of help because he was old and had served our country.
Every day we are given many opportunities to be kind. We are faced with situations and have encounters with others, a wide variety of chances of all shapes and sizes to treat others with some basic compassion. Every day people chose to by cynical. To judge. To react negatively. To turn away or ignore.
That is the easy way out though, isn’t it?
It would be so much easier for me to just forward this message to our general reception line. To write him off as inconsequential and wash my hands of him. Dump him on someone else and make him someone else’s problem. Not my circus, not my monkeys, right?
Why is the “right” way also the “hard” way?
Why are humans wired to judge and dismiss instead of naturally wanting to ask, or help, or care?
Now, there are people who buck this system. People who are naturally inclined to be kind and compassionate and understanding, just by default. (I know a few of these people and I’m lucky to call them friends. They are an inspiration to me on a daily basis. Yes I am talking about you Sarah). This is the kind of person I want to be. I don’t work at being uncompassionate. I don’t go out of my way to be judgmental. But in our world of instant gratification and social media, where we are surrounded daily by negativity and ugliness, it seems to be the default to always assume the worst.
I don’t know about you, but this shit drains me. I stopped watching the news a few years ago because it just plain bummed me out. Negativity sucks the life out of my soul. It makes me cranky and ugly and I really, really don’t like it.
So I try as much as I can to take a minute and think before I judge. Take a breath or two before I speak and say something ugly. Try to see the positive in a situation or the good in a person. I know this makes people crazy. My poor boyfriend is the biggest recipient of this. My need to constantly point out the other side of a situation, or arguing for the underdog. I truly don’t mean to be argumentative or negative or naggy. I just want the world to be a less negative place. Less ugly flying around. I am a self-professed “Lover of Loving Things.” I hate confrontation. I dream of a world filled with rainbows and butterflies and sunshine and unicorns. #SoSueMe
I have decided that when I get back to work after training, I’m gonna call that guy back. I may or may not be able to help him. He may very well not even have an issue that needs to be addressed by my department or any other City department. But he deserves a chance to tell someone what is going on, and it may as well be me. And not because he is a veteran, or because he is 71 years old. Simply because he is a human being and it is the right thing to do.