Saturday, February 21, 2009

Manners: A Lost Art?

It has been said that people show their true colors in a crisis. I decided today that this old assumption is not entirely accurate. I believe that people actually reveal themselves in a very common, ordinary situation. I believe that people show their truest colors in the parking lot.

I came to this conclusion during the four hours I spent directing traffic in a church parking lot today. I'm not quite certain as to how I wrangled myself into the events of my day, but we'll boil it down to this: I am driven and motivated by guilt. I once read something to the tune of: the challenges of life aren't really good versus evil--life is hardly so epic--most days the battle we fight is doing good versus doing nothing. And because this struck a chord with me (and is apparently still striking), I seem to volunteer for things I really do not want to do. Alice, who seriously cannot and will not ever say NO, tends to make this happen on an even more frequent basis. For me, it is especially likely that I jump in when I'm quite positive that no one else is all that willing to do it. That cliche little angel on my shoulder always pipes in with her annoying voice, pleading, "It needs to be done and if you don't do it, then who will?"

And so, when the relief society president of my ward informed us that her dad needed help with "ushering" at the Draper Temple open house because the members of his stake (the stake called to this responsibility) were so over volunteering after a few months (understandable), Alice and I raised our hands and told her we would help out.

Alice is a social worker and I am a teacher, self-described do-gooders, over-educated (with the student loan debt to prove it) and underpaid. Apparently self-punishment and penance run deeply in our DNA--we were wired incorrectly from the get go, I believe. (Becoming best friends and roommates has only resulted in a multiplication of self-punishment and penance episodes.) Basically, we're very stupid gluttons for punishment.

Anyway, back to the story, so "ushering" in my best Sunday clothes quickly morphed into me still wearing my best Sunday clothes covered by an almost incandescent orange vest with reflector strips. And that whole "ushering at the temple" gig transitioned into the reality: locating empty parking places in an overcrowded church parking lot for the arriving tourists. Oh, and making sure people didn't park in the partitioned off sections of the lot where the shuttle bus carrying these same tourists needed to turn wide on its journey up to the temple.

But the day was sunny and I kept telling myself this was important work, WWJD, I'm from Pioneer Stock and can handle this even if these new shoes will probably give me blisters, etc. So we helped the crowds as they arrived (as best we could). And did I mention it was sunny?

Lucky for us, the vast majority in the steady stream of tourists were patient with the limited parking availability. They were polite. They entered on the "entry" side of the parking lot. They waited for more spaces to become available. They teasingly commented on my orange vest and treated me with human decency, knowing that I had no control over the parked cars. Knowing that I was just a girl trying to do the right thing, sacrificing the middle of her Saturday to help out. Recognizing that, in spite of the orange vest, I was quite powerless. Because as reasonable, rational people, the vast majority of temple tourists understood that there is no such thing as a supreme being of the parking lot with a talent for swiping cars out of their way. So patience and politeness are probably their best option. And, really, circling around the lot a time or two wouldn't hurt until that time when more busses arrived filled with leaving tourists in leaving vehicles.

And then there were the Others. Wait, before I explain these Others, let me first put this as nicely as possible: we all are in a hurry sometimes and in that hurry everything seems to go wrong. We all let our behavior slip into the impatient. We all get a little frustrated. These are natural and understandable reactions. But, you would think that while going to tour a temple on a sunny, unhurried Saturday (here, in Utah, where the majority of the population touring the LDS temple are, well, probably LDS and the majority of these LDS individuals probably believe in the sacred nature of temples, etc.), well, you would think that you might put some of those negative feelings aside for a few hours and just submit to going with the flow and enjoying the spirit of the event. You would think that this would be the case, but my friends, it was not.

Let me tell you, these others (oh, these others!) showed a side of humanity that is disappointing to see. Social Darwinism, that whole philosophy of every man for himself and dog eat dog and survival of the fittest, must infuse the lives of far too many in this world. Because these others followed with exact precision the selfish rules of Social Darwinism.

They cheated: sneaking in through the exit to steal spots from waiting cars. They broke the rules, parking in clearly partitioned off spots. They acted nasty when I said they couldn't park there (until I kindly, saccharinely informed them they could remain if they didn't mind the bus taking out their back seat). Some simply ignored (read: nearly plowed down) the person checking tickets at the entry. A few littered their unwanted items in the lot (because I guess that finding trash receptacles must be impossible, what with the enormous blue dumpster you've driven past multiple times staring at you in the face). Several simply rolled down their windows and demanded I direct them where to park "in this mess." Others, opting to park on the road, had to be told to clear their cars from blocking the driveways of the church house's neighbors. And, upon their return on the bus, the same individuals filled with complaint two hours earlier, lazed and laughed in the same overcrowded parking lot still encircled with patient, creeping vehicles waiting for their spot. Rather than scuttle off to clear the way for more tourists, they decided on dinner plans and waited while someone powdered their nose; they cleaned the car out, changed from suit and tie into street clothes. One group with multiple vehicles even held a picnic.

And I, representing a church with a doctrine and message I believe in fully, had to smilingly show patience and kindness and a tightly controlled lip with every last one of them, in spite of their selfish inconsideration.

And then, near the end of my shift, came the icing on my Disappointed in the Human Race Cake. Not only did her husband originally pull into the exit and flat out LIE to me about it (politely, at least), but she had the audacity to, in an uppity tone like I've never heard uppity before, inform me that "THIS has been organized VERY poorly" when said husband dropped her and their children at the door. And I, biting my bleeding tongue, smiled like I didn't quite hear her, and turned to stare into the sky as if admiring the day. She stomped into the building and I started formulating the following blog post in my mind. It read:

Dear Temperamental Temple Tourist,

Listen, lady, I know waiting really throws you for a loop. Clearly. But I'm just trying to do the right thing here even though, frankly, it really, really sucks. I'm not the god of the lot. I can't just pick up cars so that you and your yuppy spawn who happen to be honor roll students at Bryant Middle School (don't worry, those FIVE bumper stickers you posted on your status-mobile announcing this fact were not missed--by anyone) can get right in to watch the movie and tour the temple. Sometimes parking is scarce. Sometimes we have to wait. Get over it. Grow some manners. Your kids are watching you and learning to do everything you do.

P.S. If you'd like, I'll turn this orange vest over and you see about organizing the entire event that has been going on for over a month with thousands of visitors daily and thus far they haven't lost a single one.
P.P.S. I spoke too soon. Scratch that. Casualties: 1.

Eventually we were relieved of our posts, Alice and I, with battle stories to share: she nearly getting hit by cars, me hearing the wrath of the impatient. We drove away, leaving an empty spot in the lot that was, I'm sure, quickly filled. All in all, in spite of our wounds, it really wasn't a bad day. Like I said, most of the visitors were polite and decent. But those Others got me thinking--we've lost something in our culture. Is it manners? Goodness? Patience? Self-sacrifice? All those democratic ideals, all those altruistic characteristics and personality traits we say attract us to others? We've lost something, clearly--the intricate workings of our economy surely cannot be blamed singlehandedly on the government.

I think the events of my day pointed to my guilty truth, once again. It doesn't take a crisis to show our true selves. It just takes the ordinary. We show who we are day after day, one small action after another. What I read is true: our daily battle is doing good versus doing nothing. We are either being selfish, or we are not. And in order for society to run smoothly, someone needs to do good. Who will raise their hand?


Alice said...

Nice. I totally love that the "be cool to the pizza dude" has become somewhat of a fable, gotta learn that moral lesson somewhere. I love that.

As for our adventure yesterday, at least it is over. "brownie points" as one lady said, and that metrosexual dude with impeccable taste said, "extra bonus points cause you're wearing the vest." Thanks guys.

One of my favorite parts of the day, the sunshine. And possibly the fact that I may have been singing out loud to myself in between nearly being run down.

Rosanna said...

You are so right....our true colors seem to come out when we are driving, or in parking lots. I certainly hope I would never lose my senses to become one of those "others", but I have often thought it is truly sad that the lockers in the temples have to be locked....

Anonymous said...

You will both be blessed. I don't think I could have held my tongue. The only thing left to say is, "ONE THEN THE OTHER.....ONE THEN THE OTHER!!!!"

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well, that was probably a very eventful day.

Man! I can't believe that you held you tongue, i would have called out to Mrs. Icing on Your Cake, to get her REAR to the END of the line and WAIT like any DECENT person would! Oh, and her spouse should learn to ADMIT TO WHAT HE DOES, 'cause it WILL get him FARTHER in LIFE!!!

Of course i probably have a temper and my short fuse burns fast till i blow!!! Though, not many people actually do see me blow, 'cause only certain people get under my skin. I can't believe you kept a cool head. You HELD yOUR TONGUE!!!! Of course, if she marched right inside, i would have a few things running through my mind about her!!

I have actually seen people blow a fuse! I mean you should ask Mrs. Somebody Told Me So about the time in Hawaii, she didn't brake all the way and bumped someone, the person went Bizerk! (pardon me spelling)

It just goes to show that everybody is really watching you! and your true color can show at anytime, especially LDS people, they are always watched, while people are just waiting for us to mess-up!

Oh, and this is Confessions Of a Music Loving Bookworm! Somebody Told Me So wont let me get off her thing since she ain't done