My family has decided I an unspeakable grouch, a Scrooge-like grinch of epic proportions. The kind that despises puppies and rainbows.
It all began a few weeks ago. My son and I were in the drive-through of a restaurant. The man helping us was probably the manager or assistant manager as he was about my age. When I asked for a few extra napkins, he replied with, "That will be my pleasure, sir." When I paid, he said, "Thank you. Your order will be ready in a few minutes and then it will be my pleasure to serve you." When I asked for an extra container of honey-mustard sauce, he said--wait for it. "That will be my pleasure." I, of course, thanked him politely and drove off.
I then noted to my son that this was utter hogwash. Of course it was not his pleasure to do that. He was doing it because he was paid to. It had nothing to do with how much he enjoyed handing out extra honey mustard. I observed that this was probably the latest thing that corporate had come up with as a customer care thing.
My son said I was being mean and I replied that I wasn't. I wasn't criticizing the man--he was doing what he was told to do. But I thought it was ridiculous that he had to keep saying something that was clearly not true.
When I go to eat, I want good food at a fair price. I'd like friendly service as well. If you do those things, you have fulfilled the contract. As a customer, I need to pay and it would be good if I was polite. So, I say, "Thank you." The employee says "You're welcome." Boom. That's the end of it. No elaborate and obviously false niceties uttered so often that they become meaningless.
We are doing in our language and civil society what we've done with grades. Inflating them to the point that they are worthless. If "It will be my pleasure" is the new standard, then "you are welcome" is meaningless. I realize that there is a bit of this inherent in almost all codes of etiquette and protocol. But We've inflated language and in doing so, we've lost a perfectly good phrase.
We are also focusing so much on the symbol that we're overlooking the substance.
Here's another recent example of my grinchiness, which appalled my teenagers, raised as they have been in our current social environment.
I think it's ridiculous to wear pink this month. I really do.
Let me explain. I think breast cancer is a terrible thing and it ought to have it's butt kicked well and good forever. To that end, I think women ought to get early exams and I think research ought to be funded.
It's actually because of that I worry about the pink craze. How many people will wear pink and feel virtuous, feel like they've really done something, really contributed to the cause? I think it's human nature to do very little and feel like one has done very much.
If everyone who wore pink gave money to research? Now we're talking. If everyone who wore pink made sure that they or their loved ones got mammograms? Heck, yeah! But we risk, I think, confusing awareness with actually doing something. The hard reality is that, by itself, awareness won't save a single person. But it's so easy, and it feels so good that I fear it can be deceptive. If I were satisfied that wearing pink would save a single woman, then I'd be all for it. But I worry that it might have the opposite effect, actually. That people--especially young people--will be so enamored with their pink-outs and think pink campaigns and the like that in the midst of that awareness, they won't actually DO anything. And that would not only be silly, it would be potentially fatal.
So, I"m not really against wearing pink. I'm against empty gestures that replace action. I'm not really against good manners at fast food places. I'm against empty rhetoric that inflates our language to the point where only hyperbole can get noticed.
The basic theme in this rant is this: we are slipping, quickly, I fear, to being a society that thinks and says and feels things over a society that does things. And that worries me. We are becoming a smooth-tongued, exquisitely sensitive group of people who are empty and sterile inside. Who prefer pleasantly phrased lies to plain-spoken truths and smooth, plastic niceties to rougher, but more textured realities in many different contexts.
And that is worth a bit of grinchiness, I think. Bah! Humbug!
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