Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Invisible people


I have, since childhood, been a fan of the comics, the "funnies."

Very often, the cartoons have buried within them a large measure of wisdom.

Some comics more than others, but for those with eyes to see, there is much to behold.

I am not referring to the political cartoons such as Doonesbury, or editorial cartoons that are decidedly drawn to make a statement; no, I'm thinking of the sometimes silly 'toons.

Case in point: Dilbert for Tuesday, May 27, 2014.

In the strip - you can view it at http://www.dilbert.com/; click on the small calendar icon and select May 27, 2014 - Dilbert and his Pointy Hair Boss (PHB) are discussing disposal of dead batteries.

The PHB tells Dilbert that discarded batteries must be put into a special container. The container, PHB continues, will be emptied by the janitor into the regular trash and taken to the landfill.

Dilbert suggests that perhaps someone could ask the janitor NOT to mix the batteries with the regular trash and NOT to take them to the landfill, a/k/a "dump*."

The PHB replies that this can't be done because "no one knows what language he speaks."

The thing that got my attention was not the environmental issue, batteries in the dump. Rather it was the fact that apparently no one ever bothered to talk to the janitor.

I know that Dilbert frequently talks to the janitor so Dilbert wouold know, but the janitor apparently is "beneath" the PHB - as janitors are to so many people. Much like trash collectors - excuse me, "sanitary engineers" who hang onto the back of compactor trucks - or ditch diggers, or elevator operators (do they still have elevator operators?), or the folks behind the check out counter at the local Publix, Safeway, Giant, or similar supermarket, even when they wear a name tag.

We ignore people who are "beneath" us; we ignore people on whom we depend for every day services and common courtsey - the receptionist, the letter carrier among others.

We either ignore or we are rude to others we havn't taken the time to get to know.

I love it when somcone dials my number by mistake and demands, in a language other than English, to speak to someone I don't know. Worse, when the person, learning their mistake, hangs up sans a "Sorry," or "Perdon," or "Excusez-moi," or - in my neighborhood, מצטער or סליחה. Even if the dialer of a wrong number speaks no English, the effort in the speaker's language would be appreciated. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but I was bought up to be polite and to "own up" to my errors.

While we are ignoring people, we also are missing an opportunity to learn about those people and what they do.

As a reporter I interviewed people from all walks of life; blue collar, white collar, and no collar. With only one exception - a charity manager - I came away with respect for the people I interviewed, and a passing knowledge of what they did on a day-to-day basis.

When I first started reporting in Peru IN Tribune I was assigned to interview a fellow who picked up trash along the Wabash River to keep the area near his mobile home presentable.

I was reluctant to "invade the man's privacy," but my boss said either do the interview or start looking for a new job. I did the interview, discovered the guy was delightful and from then on I never hesitated to interview almost anyone at almost anytime. (I never got accustomed to interviewing bereaved relatives.)

I try to get the names of all the people I see on a more or less regular basis, and I try to call cashiers, waitresses, and others with name tags by the name on the tag.

It's a small thing, but it goes a long way in making a person's day - mine and theirs.

And the price is right.


* When I worked at the Trenton (NJ) Times Advertiser many years ago I had an editor, Sam Graff, who insisted, correctly I believe, that a "landfill" was just a "dump" with a politically correct name. In fact, a "landfill" is a "dump" that is (supposed to be) covered over with dirt. Virginia Beach VA calls its former landfill "Trash Mountain"; it now is a recreation area.

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