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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Orange you glad you didn't see what I saw

In the New York Times building in Manhattan today I shared the elevator with a middle-aged woman eating an orange. It would have been an uneventful trip to the 26th floor except that, as she peeled, a chunk of orange rind about the size of an iPod Nano fell to the elevator floor.

Now if that were you, what would you do? All she had in her hands was the orange. There’s no doubt she saw what happened, just as I couldn’t help notice. She kept peeling and eating, ignoring the floor, and me. So I figured, well perhaps she’s just being efficient. In case she drops any more, she’s just waiting until she arrives at her floor to bend over and pick it all up at once.

Then the elevator doors opened on 25, and she started walking out, leaving the peel there on the carpet of this otherwise pristine elevator. So naturally, I said, “Um, I think you forgot your peel.” I swear I said it. But now I’m not sure. Because there was no reaction whatsoever. She looked straight ahead and kept walking, leaving me with her garbage. When the elevator got to 26, I bent down to pick up the peel, feeling half suckered and fully repulsed.

This episode reminded me of the quote,

The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” - Fred Astaire

I thought of the kids of the woman in the elevator. I thought of the terrific example she must set for them every day. Leaving her tray of trash on the table for the fast food restaurant worker to clean up. Sticking her gum on the park bench. Cutting her whole family into the ticket-holders’ line (just ahead of my kids and me). What hope is there for civility when women like this are raising offspring?

Of course, I don’t even know if that woman has kids. But all the world knows of us is the sum of our actions. All the little things we choose to do, or not do, every day - like how to deal with a piece of orange peel on the floor - says, “This is who I am.”

We can’t be there all the time to tell our kids to pick up after themselves. We hope by setting the right examples that they learn and show the world each day that they are not rude, they are not pigs. I don’t remember any particular moment as a kid when my mother or father set an example of using good manners. It was just a natural part of living. I will, however, remember the woman in the New York Times building and her orange.

John Stuart Mill said, “In the long-run, the best proof of a good character is good actions.” Today’s small encounter was proof again that every action counts.

Gary @ Quote Palettes

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