Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Goes On

I sometimes feel that we are capable of being only as great, or as good, as the occasion. Surrounded for most of every day by my fellow taxpayers at work, "good" seems ever more an archaism. I wish I were a good person, but what does that even mean?

I've been at my current job for nearly three years. In that time, there have been few new hires--understandable given the economy--so you might think that I should be fairly well acquainted with everyone by now. That's not exactly the case. Most of the faces are familiar to me, but there is limited occasion for interaction with co-workers not seated within the immediate vicinity of my desk, and even those conversations tend to be brief and of an extremely superficial nature. Then, every few months, new seating arrangements are assigned, and I find myself in the company of neighbors with whom I may be more or less compatible.

In these circumstances, I find that there are not very many opportunities for making a good impression. Because I am quiet and keep to myself, I suspect that, for most people, I come across either as a dullard or a creep. A few older ladies will think that I am sweetly innocent, like a fresh young babe perhaps. I will admit to being dull, maybe not worldly wise, and I can't really help it if I somehow exude a creepy aura. Extended exposure will reveal that I am utterly harmless, and I don't so much mind the other misconceptions. It is maybe not an ideal situation, but I can hardly resent others for failing to see beyond the surface, when I myself make so little effort to invite them in. Indeed, I regret that, whenever someone does show an interest in getting to know me, I am usually the one failing to show equal interest in them. Moreover, I am no less prone to forming opinions of others based on little personal familiarity.

There is one co-worker in particular that I took an almost immediate disliking to. He looks like a hippie Jesus with poofy hair. I'm not personally a fan of big hair, especially on men, but perhaps the Jesus part is by design; he also sports a chain necklace with a steel crucifix resting on a bed of his highly visible chest hair. I don't understand why he is permitted to persist in his incomplete button job, which I find obscene, but I'm not one of those dress code narcs. Perhaps he gets away with it because he is generally well-liked around the workplace. The supervisors will tell you with much affection that he's "a good guy"--words I rather doubt they would use to describe me.

Given, as stated, how little opportunity there is for truly doing good in this environment, I'm not sure what the basis of this prevailing opinion is. Frankly, there isn't much that he or anyone else there actually does, period. Rather, he is a popular fellow, I suspect, because, quite unlike myself, he speaks often and he speaks well. I do not mean that his speech is eloquent or his statements perceptive. But he must be charismatic, because I am always hearing girls complimenting him on his opinions or giggling at his witticisms. I am not certain what exactly he is saying that so impresses these young lasses that are his preferred company. I am usually busy doing my job while all this goes on, and only the shriller voices make it across to where I'm sitting. But I am sure that it is not just the girls indulging him out of pity or politeness. They are the ones stopping by his desk several times a day for the pleasure of his company.

The work sometimes requires that he consult with the supervisor seated closer to me, and it is then that I am witness to some of his act. He'll insert himself into any conversation that catches his ear along the way, boldly stating his hackneyed opinions as though with biblical authority ("James Cameron is a hack," "Clapton is the greatest guitarist of all time," "We started this war for oil," etc.). Perhaps he'll spot a music CD on someone's desk, at which point he'll be happy to recommend a new and better band that you've never heard of. And he should know what he's talking about because, after all, he sings and plays guitar for a band of his own. It is a manner that can easily intimidate more fragile egos into acquiescence. (Perhaps, given the girls' reactions, I should say "impress" rather than "intimidate," although I do believe "intimidate" is accurate, whether or not the girls realize they are being intimidated.)

I do not consider myself a superior judge of character, nor do I mean to boast by suggesting that I am uniquely immune to his charms. Seeing as how I am not a pretty female, his performance is obviously not meant for me. And even if it is a performance, which is merely my suspicion, that does not preclude his being in reality possibly more intelligent than me. In fact, I should think it rather a compliment to him that his appeal seems beyond my understanding. That said, while I may or may not be justified in finding his behavior irritating as so far described, what I actually feel is a more intense dislike. Allow me to elaborate with some additional observations, though I cannot guarantee that they will make my position any more rational.

The door-opening scenario may be the one daily opportunity to do a trivial bit of good. In the case of this Jesus, I have found that he is admirably consistent in his habit of holding the door for pretty young ladies, to which they may respond with a "What a gentleman!" or some similarly flirtatious expression of gratitude, which is then met with a cute "You're only just noticing?" Considering that I've witnessed this same scene with the same players well over a hundred times, the girl must indeed be some kind of mental retard. But that's not the only thing I notice.

We work the same shift and on the same floor, so quite often he and I will be approaching a door at the same time. In this case, when he is ahead, he will brusquely proceed forward without any acknowledgment of any man behind him. Conversely, many times have I been the one holding the door for him. For this, I get no thanks and again not even a glance in my direction as he steps through without any hesitation.

None of this especially bothers me. There are some people who just won't hold the door for others. Perhaps they lead hurried lifestyles. I can understand and accept that, and it's not as if I am old or infirm so as to actually require anyone's assistance with opening a door. If they have to get somewhere, or even if they just think they do, then I would certainly not want to slow them down at all.

But let's examine another common situation. What about when there is a girl thrown into the mix, in addition to us two guys? Suppose he is first to the door, and it is an inward-swinging door. He will pull the door open and we will both see the girl pass through first, but then, as I approach to follow, he will step in front of me and leave me to catch the door on my own before it swings closed behind him. What is up with that?! How much time could he be losing by continuing to hold the door for one more person? Mind you, this happens almost every day.

Now, etiquette demands that a man hold the door for a lady, but maybe the rule is hazier when two males are involved. I suppose one could see it as emasculating for a man to have a male peer holding the door for him. That could explain both his disinclination to hold the door for me and his lack of appreciation when I hold it for him. That is not how I operate. That is not how most guys there seem to operate. Timing has sometimes even resulted in a lady holding the door for me, to which I offer, not an apology, but my heartfelt thanks. Perhaps this Jesus is just eccentrically old-school. But I cannot properly play the prosecution and the defense.

Based on the limited data collected, how then should we assess his character? When his day of reckoning comes, will he be seen and judged as the image of goodness that he projects to most people for the better part of every day? Or does his senseless discrimination, admittedly minor and ultimately inconsequential, reveal something critical about his nature? His girlfriend(s) may truly love him and think him a man of good heart. But how does he act when there is not a pretty female to impress? I cannot accept him as a "good guy," because I perceive truth only in his rudeness, but am I seeing too little or too much? Mercy is a virtue, and perhaps my way is too harsh. Perhaps there is no practical difference between the appearance of virtue and the reality of it. In that case, if he appears good most of the time, then perhaps that's good enough.

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