Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Turn That Frown Around

The guard at the front desk and I have had a rocky relationship, but it's funny how things turn around.

Because I bike to work, she assumed I was a courier and, for two weeks, would ask me to which floor I was going. It didn't seem to mean anything to her that I would be upstairs for five hours each day. She seemed grumpy, but I believe it's best to befriend people you've got to see every day, so I always smiled and wished her "good morning," every morning.

Eventually she became curious enough to ask what I was doing. I explained that I'm a proofreader for Modern Climate, the company that just moved into this building. She understood that I'm a permanent employee (well, a contractor, but that doesn't affect her). And eventually she came around to greeting me each morning and when I left each evening. She would even smile.

One Thursday morning she explained she had Friday off, and she wished me a good weekend in advance, asking whether I had any plans. She said she was probably going to stay at home and watch movies. I suggested this was an excellent time of year to check out a state park, that many places offer free bird-watching kits (binoculars, book of local birds) as a fun, easy pastime. I don't think she took me up on it, but I hope I planted a seed.

Last week she asked what kind of artist I was. I explained that I'm a proofreader: I just correct spelling errors and word choices. She assumed I must be "some kind of world-famous artist" based on the company I work for (and she forgot our prior conversation). But this was actually going somewhere. She said that she was a painter and thought she might show me one of her works. I said that sounded like an awesome idea and I'd look forward to it.

Nothing yesterday, but today she asked if I had a moment as I headed in to work. She pulled out a plastic bag and from that a medium-sized canvas with a very bright, vivid image. Three bunnies were dressed in colorful summer frocks and dancing in a lawn. The portrait was fringed with vivid, multi-hued flowers. It struck me as overly cute and oh so bright, but that would have been a poor way to greet this gesture. I complimented the sweetness of the expression as well as the detail of her work, and "oh gosh, look at those bright colors!" (You can acknowledge something without judging it, and it's as good as complimenting it.) She was quite pleased!

She also said she wanted to find a way to turn it into a card, like for Easter, say. My mind flashed with several competing online businesses with custom postal applications, but I thought the easiest outlet for her would be Cafe Press. She got very excited and, presumably, will look into that later. She modestly iterated this was just a hobby of hers, something she likes to do, but I insisted it was a great thing to stay creative at all points in one's life. I indicated that keeping one's mind active like this helps stave off Alzheimer's, which she was (inordinately) excited to hear.

This isn't the first time I've turned a seemingly unpleasant person around, just by being a decent person regardless of how I'm treated. And a lot of times it's not that they're being mean: they're either shy, socially awkward, or have been wounded too many times in the past to be receptive to new experiences. I know too many revenge-based people who don't believe in showing kindness until they receive it first, but that doesn't brook harmony between people. I think that level of entitlement is vain, actually, the idea that the world owes one anything.

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