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We all have some influence on the world around us, sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Most of the time we might not even know what influence we had because that part of the world moves away from us.

But we also seem to be losing two skills associated with this:

  • Common courtesy
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

And it’s a lot of little things in what we all do.

Many, many years ago, I worked in a copy shop.  During my first few days, I asked a customer, “Is there anything else?”

I got lectured by the owner.  You never say that to a customer.  It makes it sound like you’re trying to get rid of them.

Yet, I hear it all the time in just about every retail establishment.  Sometimes, it does indeed feel the stores don’t really want my business.  Some clerks barely speak to me, other than to ask for the money.

Really, sometimes smiling at people or generally being friendly makes a big difference on the people around you. 

For many years, I ran the writer’s pitch sessions at the Washington Independent Writer’s Conference.  I and another writer kept the pitches running on time to military precision (it helped that we were both vets). 

I greeted the agents.  Sometimes I’d swing by between pitch sessions and see if they needed anything (Cookies?  Coffee?).  Asked them how the trip was over here (they would have taken a train from New York).  Took complaints (didn’t want to do that, but those were the writers’ fault).

One of the agents returned after a two-year break.  Recognized me.  Called me by name.  I was flabbergasted, actually.

It was all those little things about courtesy that most people don’t bother with these days.  Chances are they’ve got their head buried in a cell phone instead.

And what’s this bubble?

This is Writing Nerd’s turn to wander in. 

The bubble is how we view the world.  You’ll see the most obvious example of it in Hollywood where actors do strange things and think that everyone should follow in their footsteps.  Arrogance on steroids.

But it’s everywhere.  We might think everyone is like us, and if they’re not, they’re wrong.

Example from the Army:

I’m a rotten runner because I have flat feet.  Yet, we had a sergeant who was a naturally gifted athlete.  Running was easy for him.  His bubble?  If you can’t keep up with him, you weren’t trying hard enough or you were faking it.

He couldn’t put himself in someone else’s shoes to understand what they were experiencing.  We had people like me, people with short legs, people with different body types—all things that influence running.

When he was assigned to be in charge of “remedial” physical training, we all dreaded it because this bubble made him an extremely poor instructor.

Example from the writing world:

I don’t outline when I write.  People who outline scratch their heads and instead of asking questions, tend to say I’m writing wrong. 

And you’d think that people from the non-outlining side would be different, but nope, the same bubble exists.  Apparently, I have some things I do that are outside other people’s bubbles.   So even when I have something that works for me, in the eyes of others, I’m just wrong.

Not even one person asked a question about why I might be doing it differently.  Just like the sergeant above never asked why I might not be able to keep up with him.

We all can’t be right.

We all can’t be wrong.

But the power we have is common courtesy so we can learn more about other people.

Additional Reading

Abundant Blogger on Courtesy and Respect