Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.

Pollyanna in a City of Scolds


By Sarah Jai Waggoner

A few years back, an LA Times article referred to Berkeley as “a city of hall monitors” and it is proven true on almost a daily basis. It seems that everyone, as my 25-year-old niece says, “wants to be the boss of me.” In my newly minted Pollyanna persona, I’d like to share a few incidents, and suggestions for how to improve our collective civic experience.

One time I was standing, wool-gathering, at the deli counter of the Berkeley Bowl (prime territory for observing incivility in action). There were no other customers when I got there, so I was shocked to hear a man saying, “Are you going to stand there all day blocking the tickets?” Now, if this man’s mother never taught him the functionality of “excuse me”, his Kindergarten teacher certainly should have. In New York, a city long known for its surliness, the toughest gangster knows he will never get off the train without a “pardon me”

Let’s do away with “should”, particularly by the young. I should floss more often, I should pay my bills on time, but I don’t need a twenty-something jogger telling me I should move over when she wants to race by. What ever happened to “please could you…?” It’s very hard to refrain from snapping, as a friend once did to a young adult who said she should recycle a piece of paper that had been mistakenly dropped in the wrong bin, “Girl, I have a compost heap older than you, and I can police myself!”

Refrain from giving unsolicited advice or political opinions. When I’m at the check-out counter, I don’t need to be told that every almond uses up eighty gallons of water. Nor do I need another young shopper telling me I should take echinacea for my cold. I’ll listen to your advice when you show me your medical degree.

Pollyanna suggests some of the following practices you can take up while you go about your day:

  1. Smile and greet people on the street. Or, just note how nice it is when someone says “good morning” to you.
  2. Try to save your political views for City Hall meetings and blogs. A barista friend once told me that one warm day she greeted a customer with “Beautiful day!” The response was “Yes, if you like global warming.” These folks are here to serve you, and the owner insists they be civil – even cheery- to the customers. Don’t make them responsible for the woes of the world.
  3. Thank people for the work they do for you. Now, you may thank the cashier or barista after your purchase, but have you ever thanked a garbage man? A fireman?  The guy who cleans out the street drains? A teacher? Some Berkeley citizens seem to think that because they are taxpayers, they can treat public servants as their own private employees. These folks work hard and want to do their job well.  For the most part, they don’t get bonuses or promotions for doing good work. Why not let them know you appreciate the fact that they are doing a job you don’t want to do? You don’t have to go as far as the lady with the funny hats at Berkeley Bowl who thanks every single employee by name, every day – but you may notice less cat litter left in your driveway after trash pickup.

Refrain from slapping silly people who are rude to you. It doesn’t work. I once watched a friend of mine scold a young lady for some transgression. She repeatedly answered him with positivity: “I’m glad you care so much about this! Thank you for looking after this!” It was impossible to get any traction with the scold and it drove him nuts. And it was hilarious to watch.

Try getting in touch with your inner Pollyanna. Remember the old lady in the car in front of you is not responsible for your not leaving enough time to get to your acupuncture appointment, and your horn might give her a heart attack, really slowing you down.  Don’t say “You’re welcome” in a sarcastic way when you stop for a pedestrian in the crosswalk– after all, it is the law. They’re not required to thank you when you stop at a stoplight, are they? Well, maybe they should– why not?

Remember, hall monitors were not always the most-liked people at school. We don’t all have to turn into Mr. Charles, who used to stand at the corner of Russell and Oregon Streets every day, big yellow gloves on his hands, waving and greeting each vehicle with “Keep Smiiiiling! Have a Gooood day!!” (Although the image of hundreds of Mr. Charleses on Berkeley street corners is amusing). Smile, use those manners your mother or Kindergarten teacher taught you, and keep your advice to yourself. This proto-Pollyanna thanks you.

Sarah Waggoner is a retired art teacher who lives, of course, in Berkeley, CA with too many pets and too much time on her hands.


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