Was I the only one that took the childrens’ book, The Polite Elephant, so literally? I read the classic Golden Book countless times as a youth, memorizing the ways the polite elephant acted while standing in line, sharing toys, exiting someone’s home after a visit. He always behaved perfectly. I longed to be just like him, to know the right way to act in any social situation. I’m a bit abnormal, I admit.
So, when I became a parent, The Polite Elephant was one of the first board books I bought my baby. My first purchase was Goodnight Moon, the second was The Runaway Bunny. All timeless gems. But, it is that darned perfect elephant that stays with me all these years.
And the reason for this is simply because I believe how we treat other people is important. How did you behave toward that person on the other end of the line earlier today? Or what about the lady you ordered your mocha from this morning? Do you remember? Well, chances are they do.
When we interact with our fellow man we can choose to make a positive or a negative difference in that person’s day. There is no neutral. Really? You believe there’s a neutral way to treat others? If the bank teller took your deposit and kept a flat Mona Lisa smile pasted across her face, neglected to say a pleasant, “Have a nice day,” and then turned her back on you would you interpret that as nothing? Nope. And that’s why I argue there is no neutral.
There have been times, inconvenient to me I will confess, when I have been on the other side of the espresso stand. I’m in a hurry to grab my order and go. But as I wait, I notice something about the person making my coffee. He’s shaky. His face has red blotches. And, in spite of how it mortifies the other members of my family, I ask how they are doing. Really ask, I mean. As in, I want to listen to their answer. And nine times out of ten, they are relieved someone cared enough to notice. We both usually end the conversation smiling, the better for it.
It is a simple thing to be kind to our fellow man, to notice them for more than their name tag or job description. In fact, the ripples of these simple kindnesses can change the world. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do.
So the next time you are stuck on hold with the cell phone company and a voice finally pops on the line to help, take a deep breath. Ask yourself how you like to be treated by others and do that. Be that. Be my polite elephant.