The Heart of the Problem
I was just there for a perm.
You know, the quarterly anguish many of us endure to be passable attractive to ourselves and others.

We got to talking while I sat in the chair.
Mainly about problems one businessperson is having with a competitor of ours, but mostly about
business in general.
We talked about the who-gives-a-damn attitude that is prevalent.
We talked about how much better being in business would be if everyone had respect for the
customers and treated them honestly, in a caring and dignified way.

As it is now, those of us who put customer service first end up lumped in the same rotten bag as
those who step all over their patrons and treat them like dirt.

I got to thinking about what we talked about as I was driving home, listening as I usually do to my
favorite radio talk show host.
In recent weeks, he’s hit upon a plausible answer to many of the problems facing us in this country,
and I think he might have a good point.
Americans, he says, are overwhelmed with hopelessness.
It is this lack of hope for our future that creates all the societal ills with which we are now coping.
And it is this sense of despair that is keeping us from finding solutions.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, what’s the use? There’s nothing that can be
     done about that, anyway.”
That’s hopelessness.
It’s the feeling we all have that the problems of our towns, our counties, our states and our nation are
so huge that there is nothing that will be done to attack them effectively.
That hopelessness transfers itself to our family lives, our dealings with our kids and, like the conversation
we had in the hairdresser’s, with each other in the business world.

In a long-ago episode of the television series “Beauty and the Beast,” lawyer Catherine Chandler
rosecutes a man accused of spouse and child abuse.
In her summation, she tells the jury about a special place where people go to escape the trials and pain
of everyday living, a place where there is no hate or hurt.
She says that place is the heart, inside each of us, our emotional wellspring from which serenity
and contentment pour forth.
It seems to me that we are, despite the Valentine’s Day fluff, becoming a people without hearts.
We have reduced our contacts to matter-of-fact, dog-eat-dog, do-unto-others-before-they-do-unto-you
encounters.
We challenge one another’s right to a space on the planet.
We are prepared to do battle for our tiny piece of turf.

Where is the heart in the way we treat each other?
Where is the kindness, the civility, the honesty and the compassion?
It has, unfortunately, given way to hostility and suspicion.

We hear it all the time … you can’t trust anybody anymore.
Forget where that attitude originated … we may never know.
Just look around you and see it manifested in almost every aspect of your life.
From the sour looks on the faces of some store clerks to the indifference of some public officials, from
the runaround you get from some insurance companies to the grand putoffs you are handed by anyone to
whom you are trying to explain a legitimate grievance.

Over and over again, I hear people say, “No one cares anymore!”
Over and over again, I see the truth in that accusation.
These are dangerous things, this indifference and hostility.
They undermine the spirit of a neighborhood, a town, a country.
They get people thinking that life isn’t really worth all the aggravation, that maybe it’s best just to adopt
a who-cares attitude to avoid having to deal with it.

I won’t buy that.
I won’t settle for despair.
I won’t surrender to the notion that this is just the way it is.
I intend to keep on smiling at nasty-faced store clerks and wishing good days to sullen gas station
attendants.
I intend to tell my government officials how unhappy I am with their rape of my finances and their
indifference to the plight of my checkbook.

This Valentine’s Day, instead of just showering our loved ones with gifts and cards, let’s surprise a total
stranger with a friendly smile.

It might be the start of something big.





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