Reflections on Art and Life
If you want to get anywhere, you need to be introduced and recommended by another person. Do you want to land a graduate school, a new job, a blind date? Without the right people saying a few pleasant things about you, you will remain uneducated, unemployed, and unloved. But don’t despair! There are plenty of people around who will be glad to dispense their word of approval to help you along. And why? Because it doesn’t take that much effort and it makes them feel good about themselves.
Some twenty years ago when I lived in Poland, I ran into an English couple. During our conversation I mentioned briefly that I wished I could attend a school they were familiar with. As they knew the right people, they said that they would write a personal recommendation for me. I had only just met them and was taken aback by their offer. How did they know I was not a member of the Polish mafia or a kleptomaniac? What would the recommendation be based on? The color of my eyes? The clothes I wore that day? Being the direct and outspoken young Polish woman that I was back then, I told them that I didn’t feel right about it since they didn’t know me at all. They seemed somewhat offended, but agreed that it probably wasn’t a good idea. Perhaps, on the second thought, they couldn’t recommend someone who was so reserved and distrusting. Goodbye school in England.
Fast forward some fifteen years and I live on another continent, having graduated from another school. Now I need a contractor to do some general remodeling in my bathroom. I asked my coworkers if there was someone they could recommend. Sure enough, a guy across the hallway from my office gave me a business card of a contractor he knew personally. A few days later I met with the contractor who seemed overly chatty and eager to get the job. In my book, “eager to get the job” is a plus, but “overly chatty” always causes me to slam my breaks. Except this time I trusted my colleague’s judgement. And why shouldn’t I? The contractor came with a strong recommendation and even said he would reschedule another job to fit me in. And so he did. Only later he rescheduled my project to fit someone else’s kitchen. And you know the rest of the story; it took twice as long and cost twice as much.
After the fact I followed up with my coworker to ask him why he was so eager to recommend the contractor. Did I miss something? Was everyone else satisfied with his services? Was I too demanding? Too unrealistic? The coworker told me that he didn’t really know the guy. It was just someone he shook hands with in church one day and kept his business card in his wallet. Now you tell me!
Several lessons could be drawn from these examples, and, believe me, I have cataloged them in my mental archives. But for the sake of this essay, I would like to point out that we tend to be careless in defining our relationships with other people. The same is true both in the professional and the personal spheres. Everyone is either a friend (thank you, Facebook), a boyfriend/girlfriend, a family member, or a stranger (though strangers are becoming extinct – thank you again, Facebook). Whatever happened to the words ‘colleague’, ‘acquaintance’, ‘associate’, ‘fellow member’, ‘coworker’, ‘partner in crime’, ‘neighbor’, ‘handler’, ‘suitor’, ‘supervisor’, ‘sugar daddy’, ‘drinking buddy’, ‘lover’, ‘co-owner’, ‘kissing-cousin’, ‘blood brother’, ‘godmother’, ‘roommate’, ‘soulmate’, ‘playmate’, ‘sidekick’, ‘wayfarer’, or ‘companion’? If we learned how to properly define our relationships with other people, we might gain more clarity in our dealings with each other. We would then be better equipped to issue (less frequent) “personal recommendations” that would carry much more weight.
Perhaps we should follow the example of Peggy, the coworker of Elaine Benes in one of the episodes of Seinfeld who asked with audacity and wit: “Who is this man you are currently sleeping with?”
©2013 Dosia McKay
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