July 20, 2012
Sometimes when I’m walking home and I pass people in my neighborhood they’ll wave and maybe say, "How’s it going?" And I’ll say, "Good, how about you?" And then they don’t say anything, which always irks me. It’s not that it’s small talk. I know some people find this sort of meaningless exchange annoying, and wish we could just avoid it entirely. George Carlin said that he always hated it when people said, "Have a nice day!" because it was an order. He felt that if he wanted to have a lousy day no one should be allowed to prevent him from doing so. And I admit he’s got a point. I always try to remember to say "I hope you have a nice day!" because I assume most people are going to want to have a nice day, but I don’t want them to feel like I’m putting them under obligation to have a nice day. And thinking about it I should probably add, "if that’s what you want." I realize a lot of mistakes in history have been the result of bad assumptions. At least I assume that’s true.
Anyway, maybe some people really want to have lousy days. Hey, if you’re one of those people, I hope you have the worst day of your life, if that’s what makes you happy. And I have known some people who seemed to be happiest when they were miserable. Many years ago I worked for a customer service company that was owned by a guy who had a net worth of 25 million dollars and who was probably the most miserable person I’ve ever met. This may or may not prove that money buys happiness, since I don’t know whether he spent any of his fortune, but that’s another story. I never saw him in the afternoons so, luckily, I never did think to wish him a nice day, but sometimes I’d see him first thing when I came in and would say, "Good morning!" And he’d always snap, "What’s good about it?" and walk away. I’m pretty sure now that all that misery made him happy, and that he believed everyone in the world would be happier if they were miserable too, so he created a customer service company. Because if there’s one thing I learned working there it’s that nothing spreads misery more than customer service.
Speaking from my own personal experience it seems like people only go into customer service because they’re not qualified to do anything, including providing customer service. It’s probably why most receptionists are better paid than customer service people. A receptionist may be like a roadblock between you and the person you ultimately want to speak to, but they can at least get you going in the right direction. Customer service is more like a dead end. Sure, I managed to help some people, but those were the failures, the ones that got away, so to speak. At the time I felt bad about the people I’d failed to help, but now I realize that my diligent but unsuccessful efforts to help them raised their hopes just enough to completely dash them to pieces, which meant they went away more miserable than when they’d called in the first place. And for some of them I’m sure that made their day a lot better. Anyway, the reason it bugs me when someone says to me "How’s it going?" and I reply "Good, how about you?" is because when they don’t say anything I realize they’re not really interested in the answer. At least they’re not interested in the specifics of the answer. I could very say, "Well, I’ve got a touch of the pyorrhea and my left leg’s getting gouty, which means it’ll snow before week’s end, and my wife reprogramed the GPS so it talks like Buddy Hackett, but other than that I’m not doing too well. How about you?" No, the reason strangers say, "How’s it going", and let me emphasize that it’s not even a question, is because they’re testing me. They’re making sure I’m not high on bath salts and about to jump on them and chew their faces off. They’re hoping for a nice, normal, straightforward response, although sometimes when I’m walking along I get so lost in my own thoughts that I don’t notice another person coming from the opposite direction and when they say, "How’s it going?" it makes me jump and panic and yell, "I’m just putting the salmon balls away!" Although the fact that they’re concerned enough about me to ask how it’s going does make my day a little better.