Watching People Not Suck: Moments of Kindness Pile Up Into a Movement for 2014

“We’re out of meat.”

That normally doesn’t affect me. It was the last day of the year. Vegetarians don’t ring in the new year with dead creatures, but meat makes the others happy. I like to make others happy. Being unable to wave my magic wand and procure meat, I got in the car and went to the store. I tucked the Visa gift card into the pocket with my phone. It was a gift from a friend whom we’d been blessed enough to help. I was touched by his letter reminding me that kindness is a continual circle. I’ve received so much–I am humbled to give what I can. In his case, I didn’t think we’d given enough. I guess that’s often the case with helping.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 7.53.05 AMUsually, on a day like New Year’s Eve, the store is crazy, carts crashing around like demolition derby. This time something seemed different. There were a million carts–it looked like the GW during rush hour, but the store was not the same. People were acting–nice. Like it was they’d all vacationed in Colorado and weren’t standing in Rhode Island. They were all smiling so pleasantly. I sniffed for incense. None.

“You first…” I’ve never heard that in the store. The air was ringing with “you firsts” as people picked up bags of kale and organic things I can’t pronounce. I got some kale, too. It reminded me I really should call my friend in Colorado. I haven’t seen her in a while.

I headed for the meat counter. There was a bit of a wait. I checked my email, dropping the Visa card to the ground.

“Excuse me. I think this is yours.” A smiling lady with bags of kale handed me a Visa gift card. Two Visa gift cards in one week. Fabulous! I realized it was mine. She’d rushed from the kale aisle to make sure I didn’t lose it. And she smiled. That never happens in a store. People find a spare twenty and it’s off to the races.

The meat guy smiled, people let people go first at the counter, and people waved me through the coffee. Was there a wine tasting going on? Everyone was so elated to be alive. Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 7.53.26 AMI passed the cheese samples, smiling at the Robustotasted normal. I looked around. No mushroom samples anywhere in sight.

Time to check out. The line was long but still smiling. Everyone put their kale and organic things I couldn’t pronounce on the belt in turn. They talked to each other instead of using the constipation face doing the old “New England ignore.”  It was a sight to behold–lines crowded with New Englanders on one of the busiest store days of the year and only kindness and love abounded. Not one single solitary person with constipation. And everyone intending to eat their vegetables. A tear rolled down my cheek. I put my stuff on the belt. I was ready to go.

Until I noticed the person behind me. She had one thing. “Sorry,” I said, I should have noticed you.”

“It’s okay.” It was a long wait for just piece of dead animal.

I took her roast off the belt. She looked surprised. I wanted to say, “Your roast is safe with me. I’m going after the kale.” Instead I joined in the spirit of communal love. “You have to go first. You only have one thing.” She smiled. Now we were all smiling, even though none of us vacationed in Colorado or ever found the mushroom samples near the cheese. I enjoyed paying forward the smallest act of consideration.

There’s plenty of kindness in the region, but it’s rare to see it coalesce into a bubble of human goodness so large it spills out into the parking lot. “You first,” people were waving. No one in Rhode Island does that unless they’re waving you through the outside lane of a four-lane road where the inside lane’s about to crush you. There were Rhode Islanders driving with respect even as I passed the parking lot to the Dunkin Donuts and the liquor store. That never happens. We’re the worst driving state in the union. Everyone knows if you’re going to get into an accident, it’s going to be in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts. “Must get my coffee now…” But even there–people parked between the lines and waited for each other to go… I paused a moment to enjoy the perfection of the universe. Meanwhile, I let someone out of her space. Enjoy now–it won’t last forever. 

Or maybe it will if each and every one of us eats our kale and leaves the New England constipation face at home joining the “You First” moment, making it into a movement for 2014.

I don’t make resolutions. I’m getting old. I break them and the years whiz by so fast I hardly have time to break the first set before it’s time to make a new bunch to break. But if I did, I’d make 2014 the year of “You First,” because if everyone says that to everyone, at some point we’ll all be put to the front of the line. With love and kindness.


[images: and]



Jobs Where You Can Succeed Even If You’re Awful

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 5.55.40 AMI do a lot of career counseling, even though I’m technically a social studies teacher. Students ask what they should do with their lives. They seek validation and a good plan. Many come to me far too late. I’ve been trying to have this personalized conversation for anywhere from four to six years.

“What’re you doing next year?” I ask.

“I’m going to RISD.” Rhode Island School of Design–the Yale of Art Schools.  I ask more questions.

“Did you apply?”

“I’m going to apply.”  Well, it’s May. If the app isn’t in yet, you’re not going. I follow up with, “Can I see your portfolio?”

“What?” Never a good sign. It indicates the student doesn’t know what a portfolio is. Game over. No RISD. It makes me sad. Someone needs to prepare students for short and long-term planning--to navigate the system.

Sometimes it’s not their fault. There’s a lot of red tape, expense, and logistics involved in getting into school. This is one of the reasons to hit this message hard freshman year. “What do you want to do?” becomes a four-year goal check in. For students who are ready to listen, this is critical. For the ones that think they’ll deal with this in June, the results are often heartbreaking.

Even those of us who understood “the system” make these mistakes. Heck, I back-doored my way onto one of the nation’s best music schools, and I can barely read a note. It was a disaster. I’m empathetic. Today, I offer options. Careers where anyone can succeed, whether you’re the top 20% or the bottom 80%. Better yet–careers where, even if you’re terrible, you have a great chance at success.

Writing The best writers are famous. You’ve read them. But there’s a job for the worst writers, too. At Hallmark.

Photography Good photographers get hired by National Geographic and Discovery. Bad ones by the DMV. Or you can do “abstract” work in a New York gallery, say your blur is “a representation of the contrast between dark and light–a lesson in how we should see the universe.” Sell it for six figures. If working at the DMV, your only responsibility will be to take the worst possible photo of your subjects so they can be grateful those holiday pictures on Facebook look pretty good after all.

Acting Good actors win Oscars. They get rich, develop drug habits, go to rehab, and get free publicity. Bad actors get hired for reenactments on cable TV shows and for medical commercials. “Hey, that’s the Viagra guy!” Instant fame either way.

Weather forecaster It’s harder to fake this and succeed due to accurate computer models, but don’t be discouraged. You can always throw out a “30% chance” “el nino,” “Polar ice caps” “Al Gore came out of hibernation early,” “cataclysmic jet stream” or some other global disaster. If you’re not sure, simply tell people to go shopping for emergency supplies. It helps the economy.

Teaching If you’re a bad teacher you’ve got it made as long as you can make lots of charts and graphs and administer super long tests using acronyms people don’t understand. Because tests are going digital, you can actually use UStream to proctor while you go out for coffee. Don’t dismay–there are still jobs out there for good teachers–waitressing and bartending. It’s just like the classroom, you get to serve a lot of kool-aide, and there is still math involved when you add up the bill. But you need fewer graphs and don’t take ten hours of work home.

Economists–These guys never, ever have to be right–a beautiful thing. Imagine your day–wake up, drink coffee, turn on CNN, roll dice, and make up stock predictions. Maybe you prefer dart boards instead.  Either way, say something no one understands, insert charts and graphs stolen from the teacher who served your last beer, say “billion” three times in the conversation, and you’re golden. Ruin a sector or two of the economy, and you might even get an award.

Politicians This is a career where being good gets you put out of a job. Just go to Washington, check out your new office, and ask people for money for the rest of your term. That’s not too hard, especially if you have experience selling Girl Scout Cookies outside of stores.

Foodies We love celebrity chefs, but if you can’t cook or blog you can do Vitamix demos in Whole Foods or serve side-orders of fried potatoes next to quarter pounds burgers.

It may be a tough economy, but there are indeed jobs for everyone. I hope my students reach the stars, but even if they’re fabricating predictions about when the next one will crash to Earth, as long as someone eventually pays them, I’ll be proud.