Category: Opinion

“Mom, what does the gold star mean?”

 

I’m a  baby boomer, born a few years after World War  II. I remember walking past houses on my way to school that had a  gold star–or multiple stars–displayed in their front windows, just a simple gold star printed on a square of white card stock. There were enough of them in our neighborhood that I knew they were significant, so I asked my parents what they meant.

They explained that the family had lost someone in the war. It was a star honoring the family and the fallen service person.

I would walk past those houses with a quiet reverence, and say a prayer for them, much like I still do when I wait for a funeral procession to pass by.

I know, and I suspect most decent people know that it’s not about us.

“You’re welcome.”

That’s a phase we don’t hear very often. Have you noticed this?

It’s possible that the very first time someone said it to us was when we were young. Perhaps an aunt or uncle gave you a small gift or a Halloween treat, and, if we were too busy looking at it to respond, our parents might have prompted us: “What do you say?”

(1) We said, “Thank you.” (2) The giver of the gift smiled and said “You’re welcome,” and (3) life went merrily along.

That was then, but now? Not so much. Offer your thanks to someone and they are more likely to respond with:

  • No problem
  • Thanks
  • Thank you
  • My pleasure
  • No worries
  • Sure

During my extensive research for this blog post (20 minutes, tops), I found articles  and blog posts that suggest we should never utter those two words.

“Why?” you ask.

Well, it seems that some people think saying “You’re welcome” is rude. (Really?) “It’s like saying ‘You owe me one,'” a commenter wrote in response to an opinion piece on this same topic in The Boston Globe.

A woman thought that the problem with using the phrase is that it could sound sarcastic. However, I’d suggest that the problem is not with the phrase (just words), it’s with the delivery system (the speaker’s tone of voice).

I am an optimist, however. I still believe that someday I will hear a radio or television interview conclude this way:

Interviewer: “Our time is up. Thank you, Mr. Smith.”

Mr. Smith: “You’re welcome.”

I live in hope.

For now, I was going to end by thanking you for reading this post but then you would have to decide the best way to respond, so let me just end with the most banal, over-used phrase I can think of:

Have a good day….

(You’re welcome.)

The Politics of Hate

trump

How to start a revolution:

  1. Find an oppressed people, or people who perceive themselves to be oppressed.
  2. Rally them against a common enemy.
  3. Pour gasoline on the fire and stand back.

The reason this method rarely works is because the leader is no leader and the oppressed have just been played like a $3 fiddle.

How to lead a revolution:

pettus_bridge

  1. Speak for truly oppressed people.
  2. Speak the truth.
  3. Don’t back down.

Truth will win; it just takes longer.

 

Life is but a…game show

Photo credit: Wikipedia
Photo credit: Wikipedia

I am amused by the naive attitudes of the members of the social media site for job seekers known as LinkedIn. You’d think there is some magic formula to finding rewarding work. The pundits tell us: “Do as we say and your life will be complete. Format your resume this way… Answer interview questions that way and you will find your dream job.”

To which I reply “Baloney!”  or some such dismissive retort.

Gather round, college seniors about to enter the job market. I am about to tell you how it really is.

The Interview

I do strongly advise that you get dressed up for the interview. You may not see the point, but it does matter. It shows you have respect: for yourself, the company, and the position for which you are applying. Trust me on this one: dress far better than you did under your graduation gown. The interviewer is looking for a reason to reject you; don’t give him one before you even cross the threshold.

Yes,  you should be positive and appear engaged during the interview. Yes, you should appear to take notes, even if you are only writing down items to pick up at the grocery store after the interview.

Still, doing these things does not mean you are a shoo-in to be hired. No, it only means that you won’t be dismissed within the first five seconds of the interview. But the sixth second? Well, that’s another matter.

You can be the absolute best candidate to ever walk into their conference room. You can be sent-from-heaven-above to save the company and become its next CEO, but that does not guarantee you anything. You can be rejected for any number of reasons. To wit:

  • You look like your interviewer’s ex-spouse.
  • You are wearing green and your interviewer hates that color.
  • You have an extra space on you resume (somewhere between the words Rhodes and Scholar, perhaps), so how could they possibly consider you?
  • The interviewer spotted a tattoo peeking out beyond your collar or shirt sleeve.

Lesson: Do your best but you are dealing with who-knows-what as you wend your way through the HR/interview maze. Rules of logic do not apply. Just make sure you don’t have any food caught in your front teeth before you go in.

The Salary and Benefits

I consider the discussion of benefits to be a well-needed comic interlude during a job interview. As they toss out the benefits associated with the job, consider this:

  • Bonuses are called that because they are not–by definition–guaranteed. I once started at a company the day after the last applause-worthy bonus was paid. This was done in spite of (and no doubt contributing to) the fact that the company was losing $18 million a year. And no, they did not mention the losses in the interview, just the fact that my sub-par salary would be enhanced by the forthcoming bonuses. As I recall, my largest bonus was $57. We referred to it as the tank-of-gas bonus.
    Lesson: If you don’t get the salary you want going in the door, you’re not ever going to get it.
  • Paid time off. Here’s a myth that I want to dispel: Just because a company gives you a paltry two weeks’ vacation does not mean that you will be paid for two weeks that you don’t actually work. No, you will work twice as hard during the weeks preceding and following your vacation to get all your work done.
    Lesson: I consider four or five weeks’ vacation to be an actual benefit. I might get a week or two to relax during that time.
  • Company outings. This is one of the dumbest ideas to ever be hatched. I spend 40-60 hours a week in the office or working from home. Then, as a Thank You for all my hard work, the company wants me to climb aboard a boat with my co-workers and Management as we eat bad food and drink (well, that part might be OK) and cruise around some harbor and get home at 11:00 PM on a work night. (It’s always on a week night because it’s cheaper to charter the boat during the week.) Meanwhile, my manager has gotten drunk and is snapping the elastic on my friend’s bra as he talks to her–and I am here to tell you that HR was of absolutely no help when she reported this to them.
    Lesson: How can this possibly be considered a benefit?

Retirement

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Lesson #1: Those days are gone. Not going to happen. You will be fired or quit. Or the company will be sold or file for bankruptcy within 5 years.

Lesson #2: Keep your resume updated. Always.

Lesson #3: Start saving on your own now. You’ll need it later.

I’m not as stupid as you think I am, madam.

When did we become a society of such helpful people?

Oh, I don’t mean people who really help–like someone who digs my car out of the snow just to be nice. Or drivers who politely stop their cars at a crosswalk so that you can safely walk across the street. Maybe they even smile when they do it.

No, I am referring to strangers who give you neither their time nor labor–just unsolicited advice.

Several years ago on a warm summer afternoon, I was attending an outdoor art show with my friend Phyllis. We were having a perfectly lovely time when we passed a woman with a crying baby. She was doing her best to soothe the baby and I, who have no children of my own, gave her a sympathetic smile. She nodded her acknowledgement and returned to the baby.

However, Phyllis (also childless) decided to give her some parenting tips right there in the park. Babies shouldn’t be out in the sun, she said. Was that sun block strong enough? Was that very expensive stroller shielding him sufficiently from the rays? Had she considered placing a cold cloth on the back of the baby’s neck to cool down his body temperature?

The mother is sending Phyllis warning signs that I interpret to mean “Get away from me, you crazy woman.”

Phyllis doesn’t see them.

“Have you ever considered that the baby just might be tired?” I asked Phyllis. “Maybe he’s cutting a tooth. Besides, you’re upsetting his mother.”

“Why?” she asked. “I was just being helpful.”

And that is the problem with unsolicited advice: the giver seldom has a full understanding of the situation.

Yesterday I was in the grocery store, picking up a few things before the next snow storm. I paid for my groceries and was pushing the cart towards the exit. I didn’t want to take the cart outside with me because there was something wrong with the left front wheel and my wrist was sore from trying to keep the cart in a straight line for the past 20 minutes. (Are all carts like that or am I the unlucky person to seems to find them?)

All I want to do is get rid of this cart.

Instead of pushing the cart straight out the exit door, I wanted to turn to the right and leave the cart with the rest of the carts inside the store. Just as I’m about to return it, the doors open and a dozen people walk into the store. There are teenagers, two married couples, a few men looking for the potato chips, and a woman with two daughters.

She’s trying to direct her daughters into the store but she remains standing in my way. If she would just move, I could return the cart. I wait; she starts mouthing something to me and pointing towards the door.

“I beg your pardon?” I ask.

“The exit is straight ahead,” she tells me. “You just need to go straight out that door.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” I tell her. “I’m just waiting for you to move so that I can return the cart.”

“Well, then!” she says, clearly annoyed that I’m not the confused, addle-brained woman she assumed I was.

Now, after all this, I don’t want to fall into the trap of offering you advice where it is not wanted, But really, if you find yourself about to step into someone’s life with your helpful advice, first consider this:

  1. Has the person you are about to help actually said, “Please help me”?
  2. Have you been aware of this person’s existence on earth prior to this very minute?
  3. Do you know with absolute certainty what this person is attempting to do?
  4. Do you see flames, blood, or obviously broken limbs?

If you answered “No” to all these questions, then, for everyone’s sake, just move along.

I’ll have coffee, eggs, and a side of bacon

 

Photo credit: freefoodphotos.com
Photo credit: freefoodphotos.com

There is no such thing as status quo. Even if you just stand still, things will change anyway.

I once read three articles about possible causes of cancer. The stories appeared within a single week.

And what were these findings? What should we avoid?

  1. Having sex
  2. Abstaining from sex
  3. Drinking water

Well, that was depressing week.

Ever since then, though, I treat all news stories about nutritional guidelines, health warnings, and those never-ending “studies” with the same mild amusement that I pay to those ludicrous tabloid headlines on display by the check-out lines at the grocery stores. (My favorite: “Baby Born With Wooden Leg!”)

So this week’s news says that eggs AND coffee are OK. Go ahead and indulge or, in my case, just keep on enjoying them.

I’ll drink my coffee and enjoy my eggs while I read about the next findings. Who knows what we might be told to avoid? No sooner will the story come out than new stores will open in the strip malls. Out with the “Gluten Free” store! That’s just so yesterday. Let’s go to the ribbon cutting ceremony at the “Brown Rice-Free” shop!

Who cares? The only advice I follow is that red wine is good for you.

I’ll drink to that.