Monday, December 28, 2020

Pet Peeves Dept.

     Yes, I have a few. I’m sure you do, too. Most of them have to do with behaviors that I find irritating – and that, too, is probably the same for you. And I’ll bet you that among the things that chafes you most is when someone tries to defend a behavior that you find offensive or discommoding.

     The thing is, that happens a lot. Over my 68 years it’s rendered me ever less tolerant of a considerable range of human self-indulgences. And yes, I’m sure that I have eccentricities that bother others quite as much as anything they do might bother me. But I’m the one writing this BLEEP!ing column, so it’s my turn to vent.

     I’ve written about the preciousness of time, and more than once at that. My consciousness of that preciousness, and of the uncertainty of the future, have led me to treat time – mine, yours, and everyone else’s – with immense seriousness. One consequence is that I am never, ever late for an appointment.

     A lot of people take others’ time lightly. They feel free to be late if it suits them – and they take it ill if they’re criticized for their tardiness. I’ve known a few such persons, and over time I’ve shed all involvement with them. That includes practitioners of many professions and trades. They charge for their time; why should I allow them to treat my time as of no value?

     Yet the great majority of them have striven to excuse themselves for their profligacy with my time. Some have even asserted it as their privilege, owing to their personal importance or involvements. It baffles them when I refuse to “see their point.”

     This morning, my gaze landed upon this article:

     Confession: I am a late person. At least, one in recovery. In fact, I’ve repeatedly, and embarrassingly, missed the deadline for this article. I’d love to pretend this is some journalistic form of ‘method’ acting. It is not.

     I know I’m not alone. We all know that person: there’s the child minder who is always late, the colleague who misses every deadline, even if just by a few hours, the friend you must tell to arrive 30 minutes earlier than she needs to for your lunch reservation.

     There are few habits as infuriating as someone making us wait. But, despite what may be running through your mind as you’re kept waiting again, it’s unlikely your friends and colleagues are just being selfish. A look into the psychology of lateness offers a glimpse into a mind that that may be malfunctioning. But there’s also more than one fix. [Emphasis added by FWP.]

     “It’s unlikely your friends and colleagues are just being selfish.” What rescues that statement from complete damnation is the word just. They most certainly are behaving selfishly. It’s “just” that they have reasons. If you’d only listen to them, you’d immediately understand why your time and convenience must be sacrificed on the altar of their arrogance, priorities, or phobias.


     The modern era has enshrined a few attitudes that I can’t fathom. One is the general conviction that you must never criticize a man to his face. You must never take exception to someone else’s behavior, no matter how it impacts you. One of the consequences is that bad, antisocial behavior never receives the negative feedback that would curb it.

     Herewith, a vignette I’ve related before:

     On the way back from another errand I’d stopped at a local shopping center for something or other. As I parked I spied a knot of teenagers congregated in front of the strip mall. One of them was eating handfuls of something from a plastic bag. As I debarked he dropped the empty bag on the sidewalk, though there was a garbage can less than six feet away.

     Being a terrible martinet and a scold of the first water, I said nothing. I merely walked up to the young litterer, stooped, grabbed his trash and stuffed it into the garbage can with emphasis, glaring at him all the while. Now, I’m not large – about 5’7”, 160 lb. – and this young ruffian towered over me. But his face turned as white as if I’d leveled a gun at him.

     “I was going to do that,” he stammered.

     I shook my head and entered the store. The clerk, who had witnessed the event, said plaintively that what I had done was “very brave.”

     Why did she say that? What I did wasn’t brave at all. The kid couldn’t have hurt me, though he didn’t know that. What he did know was what he saw: I had asserted a rule of public order that he knew about but had casually flouted. Perhaps no one in his experience had ever done such a thing. That someone had dared to assert that rule visibly struck terror into him.

     Now, I’m not particularly imposing. I wasn’t carrying a weapon. I didn’t have a squad of law enforcers at my back. And I did hesitate briefly before doing what I did. What I’d really like to know is whether anyone else in that kid’s previous life had ever hauled him up short for a similar offense against public order. Was I the first? It struck me as incredible then, and it still does.

     Public order is founded upon a set of expectations about individuals’ behavior. Individuals who disregard those expectations – who fail to treat them as rules – offend against public order and contribute to its demise. The only thing that preserves public order against such degradations is the high probability of an undesirable consequence.

     It’s that way with littering. It’s that way with lateness. It’s that way with pain-threshold volumes of ugly “music” imposed upon businesses and passers-by. It’s that way with sidewalk-obstructing vendors and street performers and encampments of bums homeless. And I think we all know it, in our hearts. What troubles me is how utterly unwilling we are – individually and as a society – to act on it.

     I don’t intend to condemn the article I cited in the opening section. Laura Clarke does make several good points. However, it’s the correctives she advocates that deserve the most attention. They come down to this:

  • Set boundaries and make them known.
  • Impose consequences for their violation.

     To do that, we must be willing to punish: an even more terrifying threshold to cross than to offer criticism. The modern anathematization of all forms of negative feedback has rendered us all but paralyzed in the face of even the most outrageous behavior. Some of that is simple timidity; some is the wish that “someone else” would handle it. In either case, it constitutes a passive kind of reinforcement for selfish, self-indulgent behavior and the tears it leaves in the public order.

     Just a Curmudgeonly thought as we hurtle toward 2021.


Mike Guenther said...

My motto and what I live by vis a vis time is. I'd rather be 30 minutes early than 5 minutes late. And believe it or not, sometimes it pays off in getting into appointments early. If I'm even a minute late, I feel as if my whole day is ruined.

I'm guilty of playing loud music because I like the front row seat concert sound as I'm driving, although you can't really hear it more than a few yards from my vehicle because I don't have or care for those car rattling bass speakers. I also turn it down when driving through a residential area.

Some of the Bums on the sidewalk might properly be called might properly be called panhandlers because they have homes to go to at the end of the day. Some of the more successful ones drive nice cars and apartments.

Public shaming works. Too bad it's not a popular form of punishment anymore. Corporal punishment also worked wonders for our youth in their tender years, as I've mentioned before. (We can thank Dr. Benjamin Spock for that.)


Not SURE if this is relevant, but the other day I was at the supermarket when a man approached me and, from perhaps 30 feet away, said "Excuse me, sir, would you please buy me a coffee"?


Something struck me as just plain odd in that. Back in my day, as a man about his age, it never would have occurred to me to approach a total stranger and ask that.


As to upholding the law, please forgive me if I've posted this before but it's relevant IMHO:

Clay Christensen on Religious Freedom (His personal views, not HBS)

We have a functioning society because we choose to cleave to norms. When normal behavior is not just discarded, but outright disdained, things fall apart.

Gassius Maximus said...

The same is true for people who provide services and do poor or shoddy work. You know, the I don't give hoot kind. They work for someone and I call them on it, their poor performance. I ask them why they did what they did or failed to do what I expected. I might then ask to speak to the manager and ask why employees are not better trained.

Too many people accept poor performance and do not expect better and everything continues to decline. Time to invest in pointing out that things are not right and that it will cost the busines if not corrected. We do vote with our wallets, afterall.

Francis W. Porretto said...

-- We do vote with our wallets, afterall. --

Oh indeed, Gas. And a wallet vote is far more likely to be respected than an election vote.

Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

That is a huge pet peeve for me as well. I to believe it is the mental thrill of it for those types of people. Had a very close friend and was unwilling to dump him even when the 30 minutes early did not work. Due to another thing he did it put me over the edge and done with him. Now I do not hesitate to dump the tardies and poor craftsmen and those who recommend them. It has been liberating from the frustration that goes with it.

Paul Bonneau said...

One interesting thing I discovered long ago, is that these young punks crave correction, at least under some circumstances.

Back in 1976 I was in graduate school, a teaching assistant in a very large class we called "Physics for poets". It was a required course for pre-meds. The professor would ask for homework to be turned in, then he would go over the homework questions and show the solutions. One day three boys came up to me and handed their homework in late. When correcting it, I noticed that it followed exactly the solution the professor had put on the board. As I was naive about cheating at the time (it never occurred to me that people would do that) I took my pen and gave them a big red "0" on their paper, and added, "You Cheated!".

Funny thing was, those kids came up to me later and had a talk with me. They all agreed they had done the wrong thing and promised never to do it again. It was a bit strange to discover they appreciated what I had done.

It's almost as if people who have grown up without behavioral limits, feel uncomfortable without them, and want someone to tell them where they have gone over the line.

Roy said...

I'm right there with you, Francis. Three of my top peeves are all related to time.

One is, as you stated, people who are constantly late. Not occasionally late, but *always* late - for everything.

My second peeve are professionals to whom their time is most valuable, but who have contempt for yours and mine. Doctors are the worst of this bunch. There was a move years ago to allow doctors to charge for missed appointments. I was all for this. But, I also wanted the flip side of that particular coin. If I have an appointment and I am on time, I would like to charge the doctor (...or get a credit on my bill) for the excess time I spend cooling my heels in his waiting room. (Professionally, my time might not be worth as much as his, but it's not zero.)

I once had an appointment with a well-recommended ENT. When I made that appointment, his office was empty, but the doctor was booked out for over three months. I went ahead and made the appointment and when I arrived three months later for that appointment, on time, the office was standing room only. Over an hour and a half after my appointed time, I was still waiting with no explanation forthcoming. So I approached the receptionist and asked how long before I might be reasonably seen by the doctor. I watched as she counted out 14 patient folders until she got to mine and stated "About another half hour." Now think about that. Fourteen into a half hour comes out to a few seconds more than two minutes apiece. So, she was either lying, or he was expected to spend about two minutes per patient. He might be good, but nobody is THAT good. I asked her for my patient paperwork and then abandoned the place never to return, and just dared them to charge me for a missed appointment. (They didn't)

And last, but not least, there is the contractor/professional who has agreed to come and do work for you. You have a mutually agreed upon appointment time. So, you have taken time off from work for that plumber/electrician/landscaper/tree removal service etc. - AND THEY FAIL TO SHOW - AND WORSE, FAIL TO CALL!! Those people - unless they have a very good excuse - lose my business immediately and irrevocably, and I tell anyone and everyone to avoid them at all costs.