You’ll have to pardon me for over-simplifying. I’m busy training a puppy, and all lessons need to be reduced to basics to minimize the time required to learn them. Ready? If you treat people nicely, they are more likely to cut you some slack even if it’s against the rules to be nice back to you.
I don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept for people to grasp, and sometimes that irritates me. Well, at other times I understand. People are animals. Animals display aggression behaviors (though they are often bluffing) when stressed. That is why folks might burn a car or break windows after a highly promoted sporting event. If you pack thousands of them in close proximity during an event ritualizing killing (ball game), then turn them out on the streets after telling them their team (their family) is dead, so GET OUT, some of them won’t handle it well, especially the ones you sold beer to.
My father was a charming man. He had very little formal education, and he grew up impoverished and abused. Still, he was nice to people who had more than he had, and they kept giving him work despite his addiction to alcohol. One of my earliest jobs was washing glasses and cleaning shoes at the bar adjoining a golf course. Dad was the bartender. It bothered me that these wealthy fat guys in ugly clothes spoke to him like he was some sort of house nigger. Sorry about my bluntness. Anyway, despite the way they acted toward him, he was nice to them, and they bought him drinks and even took him out on the golf course in their carts and played with him, which was completely against the rules. I just washed and scraped mud and glowered at them, so of course in a couple of months they fired me. I’m not a real fast learner.
I finally came to understand the power of treating people nicely when I was in high school. Crowds were in the streets protesting our participation in the war in Vietnam for some of the same reasons they are now occupying Wall Street. The war had gone on too long and cost too much, and vets were returning wounded and addicted and unable to get jobs. People had a sense they had been lied to and cheated by the government, and that government and big business were colluded in the war, to make a profit.
The media were portraying the protesters as naïve and unfocused. But I saw things happening that were too close for the news cameras to catch. You’ve probably seen photos of hippies putting flowers into the barrels of rifles. What I could see, being a teenager in those crowds from time to time, was that most of those pointing the rifles at protesters got choked-up and teary. They were upset at having to point guns at people who were being nice to them. When I saw that, I knew the war would end sooner. If you declare peace face-to-face, you are one important step closer to declaring it everywhere, between everyone.
So I began being generally nicer to people. I wasn’t always being honest, but hey, fake it till you make it. I got hired for jobs I was not qualified for. I sold all kinds of items to people who kept coming back to buy from me because I was nice to them while they were in the store. The success of this method was baffling to many of my hard-core, aggressive superiors at work, but they allowed me to continue because I out-sold the “closers”, the guys who tried to push people into buying.
These days I try to be nice to people when I’m performing exams at the Urgent Care. We are a small clinic with less than ten employees, but we get a lot of business because at the ER of the nearby hospital the staff are too stressed and rushed, and they don’t always speak nicely to their patients. People go to that hospital, then they come to us and they don’t ever want to go anywhere else. We can’t do everything the hospital can, and we aren’t the cheapest clinic around either. You get my point.
I realize it is a bit cliché to offer flowers to the police, but it’s still advantageous to be nice to them. It can go a long way toward avoiding arrests and citations. Yes, it’s difficult to remember when you are stressed by being told what to do by a uniformed person with a gun. Try empathy. Think about how hard a cop’s job is to do well. A policeman pulled me over some months back. My license plate tags were expired, which I hadn’t noticed. I thanked him nicely for making me aware of it, and apologized, and spoke to him with a tone of respect. He closed his ticket book, pulled off his sunglasses, and said, “Get it taken care of, okay?”
I’ve read two interesting versions lately of ways one might deal with the police during a protest. Myra, who’s over there on my Blogroll, wrote about getting arrested at Occupy Wall Street. (here’s her article/) Then I read the one written by the activist-author Naomi Wolf that was on Freshly Pressed, though it was a reprint of her essay in The Guardian six days ago (here).
Naomi made a huge deal out of the fact that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she was arrested anyway and put in a cell that had stains on the walls, and had her phone taken away (they do that in jail), and she’s a journalist, and was wearing an evening gown blah blah blah. All she would have had to do was move a little off the sidewalk when the cop gave her an order, but she “couldn’t will herself to”. The video of her arrest also shows me something different than her version of it in the article. Wolf writes that the policeman shot her a look of “pure hate”. To me he appears to be primarily irritated that he has to deal with this situation.
Now I don’t disagree with Naomi Wolf’s view that sometimes police use “Stalinist” tactics, and that it is terrible and wrong when brute force is employed against peaceful, law-abiding protesters. However, the use of excessive force is nothing new, not even in this country. People were animals long before they wrote the Bill of Rights, and they still are. It’s possible Naomi is too young to remember what real police brutality could be like against a non-violent protest.
Myra, on the other hand, was passing through the Occupy crowd, accidentally pushed over a barricade, was detained and released, spoke nicely to the cops, and they let themselves be photographed with her for the blog! I would definitely call that a survival adaptation.
Our puppy still has moments when she tries to test me to see if I am as big a dog as she is. If she’s too wound up from playing, she will jump up at me and try to nip the sleeve of my jacket. I keep saying to her, in as calm a tone as I can,