COMMENTARY: Many years ago, I was standing in a line at the university. It was the usual kind of line that college students stand and have stood in since the beginning of time.
No one was speaking, each barricaded in their own world, secretly wishing the other people would have heart attacks so they could step over the fallen bodies to the head of the line. No matter what happens to our world, we will still have lines to stand in.
Someone walked up, looked carefully at a piece of paper and then looked worriedly at the sign in front of the line. He started to leave, wavered, almost spoke aloud. He was fearful of being in the wrong line.
At last, with an air of resignation, he stuck the paper in his pocket, sighed heavily and stepped into line, having decided it was the wrong line but he was going to have to go to the front of this line to find out which line he should have been standing in.
I turned to him and said, “I wouldn’t mind lines so much if it wasn’t for all the waiting.”
The effect on the people in line was immediate. Most smiled. I also smiled. Like the air rushing out of a balloon, the tension in the line vanished and people started talking to each other.
You cannot stand in line with people who are on edge, ill-tempered and full of anger without it affecting you. Likewise, if person after person steps to the front of the line full of bile, it rubs off on the people behind the window until they are surly.
Sooner than later, they hand that mouthful of bile right back to someone in the line, forming a very destructive cycle.
The way out is to talk to the people around you. Try a little humor if you like. Something like:
“I hear Governor Martinez just flew in from Santa Fe, I’ll bet her arms are tired. Or, how many psychology students does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb has to want to change.”
You can just speak to the people in a friendly manner. You will be surprised how much better you both feel.
While it is true that all workers should be nice to us regardless of how they are treated, the way it works is simply that the nicer you are, the better your chance to succeed in getting what you want.
Seriously, when standing in any line to pay bills, get loans, buy stamps, ask simple questions, ask hard questions, ask unanswerable questions — whatever you are doing in lines, take your humor with you. Be gentle. I may be in the same line.
Also, if you can’t bring yourself to laugh, at least smile, when you hear, “I understand the Aggie football team is so tough that when they play horseshoes, they don’t even bother taking the shoes off of the horses.”
That will move the line right along.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.