Friday, July 8, 2011

Today's fortune: July 8, 2011

Today's fortune: Everywhere you choose to go, friendly faces will greet you.

The book I'm currently reading is Susan Orlean's non-fiction tale "The Orchid Thief." It's a book about obsession - particularly orchid lovers' obsession with that flower, particularly one man's obsession strong enough to make him steal orchids from a protected Florida wildlife preserve. I'm currently reading Chapter Nine, and today I encountered this passage on Page 109, in which Orlean describes driving through a portion of the Everglades:

I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to beleave that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not so huge and empty but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn't have seen this space as sad-making and vacant - I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.

It makes perfect sense - people have hobbies and become obsessed with things because it shrinks the universe to a size we can comprehend with our minds.

That's also why friendly faces are important. Human relationships make our world more manageable, too. In fact, marketing experts rely on our need for friendliness. Grocery chain Hy-Vee claims you'll find a helpful smile in every aisle. The fast food restaurant Chick Fil A teaches its employees to respond with the words "My pleasure" whenever somebody says "Thank you." I have memories of road trips from my childhood where it seems like every other radio commercial featured Tom Bodett telling Motel 6 patrons, "We'll leave the light on for you."

At Acme Co. - and at huge corporations across the globe - billions are being spent on customer service, not just because customers want better service, but because customers want to speak with friendly people. In fact, I'm currently working through a customer service training course at Acme, which says customer service is now just as important to most corporations as sales.

A couple times Jamie and I have been in situations where we didn't see too many friendly faces. One notable example is when we lived for a little over a year in a small town. I won't say which town it was, but it was in Northwest Missouri and home to a State University (Go Bearcats). Jamie and I tried our best to ingratiate ourselves into the community, but our efforts were rebuffed at every turn. We were young enough that the locals took us for university students, who are treated like second-class citizens in that town, and we were old enough that the college kids didn't wanna hang out with us either. Our days were pretty lonely there. Once Jamie and I decided to throw a party to try to win friends with free food and alcohol. We sent out handfuls of invitations weeks in advance, inviting colleagues from each of our offices. Some people RSVPd, while others made verbal promises to attend. We made a ton of food, prettied up the house and prepared for at least 15 guests.

Not a single person showed up. The next day, nobody apologized for blowing us off, and no one even mentioned the party.

Needless to say, Jamie and I were very glad to move out of that town.

I decided to test this fortune at work today. Whenever I roam the halls at my office, I usually pass a handful of people, some of whom I know, but mostly complete strangers who just happen to work in the same building. To test the fortune, I made eye contact and smiled at every person I passed. If they looked at me I said "Hello!" Then I counted how many people responded.

Six people kept their heads down and didn't give me a chance to say hi.

The number of people who responded? Six...teen.

Although every place in the world has its share of A-holes, you truly do find friendly faces wherever you go. Even if you're only walking from your cubicle to the restroom.