I was recently telling a supervisor friend about an unpleasant incident. I don't talk often about unpleasant incidents, for reasons outlined elsewhere, but they happen. No matter how nice you are, there will be a couple days out of the year that are exceptionally challenging, and this incident was one of them.
Three months after the fact, my colleague listened, and as she listened, she grew appalled. She was visibly upset, overwhelmed with concern for me and flabbergasted such an event could transpire. What was most appalling wasn't the actions of the customer, but the lack of response on the part of Metro and King County Sheriffs, which I have to admit was as much my fault as theirs.
"Still," she said. "You deserve better than this."
She meant I as an employee deserve a timely police response. But I took the statement as something larger, more philosophically expansive. You know how I overthink things. At the time of hearing the words I took them to mean, I deserve better. I deserve to be treated well. Humanely. With respect.
What a great idea.
I walked to my shift with these thoughts in mind, realizing the perspective felt new. Maybe I as a human really did deserve respect, acknowledgment, fairness… all the time. And since I deserved all this, I could expect to receive it all from the universe. What a comforting thought. The sensation of considering it was akin to letting something go, dropping into a cocoon under someone else's control, where I didn't have to take care of everything on my own; where I could trust and expect to be treated fairly by everyone, from individuals to institutions.
I started my shift. The previous driver gave me his bus, thrilled to be done, and I hopped in, excited as usual. I trundled up and down Third Avenue like I always do, lollygagging up Jackson like any other day, sandbaggin' it down Rainier as per the norm… with one small difference. I was expecting people to treat me nicely.
It was one of the worst afternoons I could recall.
Nothing was different except my frame of mind. People walked on without speaking, as they sometimes do; they asked for free rides and transfers; they asked for second chances; they didn't think about me, my needs, or that of others, but just about their own. In their struggle to survive they didn't think about giving back to society. They had agenda items more urgent than being polite, more pressing than altruism and making sure I felt respected. The notion of deserve implies the notion of justice, and the sheer amount of injustice visible disturbed me, and the desire to participate in the right execution of fairness was overwhelming: this person shouldn't get a free ride through life while these others pay through the nose for it, and so on. It was so frustrating; I entered the shift thinking I, and everyone else, deserved fair treatment. I wasn't getting it, and they weren't getting it either. I was shocked to notice I was getting into arguments with customers. What was happening?
Normally, I wouldn't even notice most of the above. It would be business as usual, and I would work on my two tasks: be nice, and make sure not to kill anyone with the bus. As a person, I believe in the concept of 'What Goes Around Comes Around.' To me, the anecdotal evidence of this truism is overwhelming, even if we all know it doesn't happen immediately. Those wheels of justice….
But as a bus driver, I don't get to participate in What Goes Around Comes Around. I see massive injustices all day, but I don't get to do anything about them. I have to bite it, and trust the universe to work things out. All I can do is observe, and be a positive influence toward my fellow peeps– not an enforcer, not even a teacher, but just a friend. That is what I am good at.
What does it mean to deserve?
To deserve is to be entitled. I was driving the 7 with a sense of entitlement. Yeah. Should I really be surprised that didn't turn out so well?
"Don't expect people to be reasonable or do things that make sense," I tell new classes of full-time bus drivers. "That way, you won't be disappointed when they don't." It was time for me to follow my own advice. Some of the behaviors I see just aren't worth asking too many questions about. When some guy who's high as a kite urinates on a garbage can while reciting the Ten Commandments in reverse order, well… it's just not my department, and I don't have the context to understand it anyway.
Deserving comes down to a question of expectations. A line from Shoeshiner Tim came to mind. He didn't ride that night, but he often does. Shoeshiner Tim's seen his share of hardships. Halfway through my shift, I heard his jovial, gravelly voice echoing in my mind:
"The world don't owe you nothin'."
He was explaining why he tries to respect everyone as much as he can, and why there's no value in going about with evil or hatred in one's heart. "The world don't owe anybody anything. You coul' be the evilest person on earth, but I'll try to put a smile on your face, your know?"
"You're a gentleman," I'd said.
My night started getting better immediately.
As a bus driver, you do deserve a timely police response. In a relationship, you do deserve kindness and respect. Absolutely. We have societal concepts of rights that should be preserved and expanded. But those are still small. I'm talking about fundamentals here. In the larger, overarching game of life… the world don't owe you anything. As my equally wise friend Stephanie similarly expressed, "kindness is not a right. It's a privilege. It is a privilege to receive."
We don't do it for brownie points. We do it just to do it, so other people can feel what it's like to be loved, and make it through their troubles a little more easily.
Please forgive the more infrequent nature of my posts these days– I promise this misbehavin' is temporary! I'm hard at work on a couple of writing projects I'm excited to share with you in the future.