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I recently had to have my driver's license renewed. As in any activity involving the Department of Motor Vehicles, this is a necessity dreaded by pretty much everyone, and when you tell anyone you have to do it you are usually guaranteed a response of pity and commiseration. The DMV has probably been the subject of bad jokes and projected misery for as long as it has been in existence. No one wants to go there because everyone views a trip to the DMV as an even involving long waits and dour, unpleasant employees who delight in making your official motor vehicle experience something to be dreaded.
Despite the accepted version of time spent in the DMV as a metaphor for oral surgery, I feel compelled to report that my experiences there have not been anything equivalent to a few hours spent with the Spanish Inquisition. The wait was not to be desired, but shorter than occasions I have waited in a doctor's office and the lady who helped me was smiling, nice, and perfectly charming. When we were done I took a moment to mention to her that contrary to popular myth, my time spent in the DMV had been entirely positive and minimally painful, and that she had been both pleasant and helpful. You would have thought I had told her that there really was a Santa Claus and that he would be delivering to her house this year. She thanked me with genuine sincerity and told me how grateful she was that I took the time to provide positive input.
“You have no idea how hard it is to do this job day after day when people are determined to be miserable before they even speak with you,” she said.
I told her I could only imagine. Giant bummer.
There are all sorts of jobs that are like that. Telemarketing is one. Whenever I get called by a telemarketer I am always extremely polite. I remind myself that they are just people trying to make a living doing a horrible, thankless job and that there is no reason to abuse anyone in those circumstances. They didn't invent telemarketing, did they? And given the opportunity, they would probably jump at the chance to do something different. It's not like their getting rich calling us and interrupting our supper or favorite TV show. If I can, I try to politely interrupt their speech early on to spare them having to go through the entire thing for nothing. It's just a matter of compassion. People hate telemarketers, which is silly. If I'm going to hate someone, which I try manfully not to do, I would hate bankers, Wall Street investors, and hedge fund managers who are far more likely to destroy my life than telemarketers and do it with a smarmy smile while wearing a thousand dollar suit.
I also try to be extraordinarily polite to people who show up at my door to try and save me from certain eternal damnation. I'm not a fan of any kind of evangelical philosophy, but I nevertheless function on the assumption that these people are sincere and door to door salvation was probably not their idea. The only time I get a little testy is when someone gets carried away with the fire and brimstone routine, which can often sound mostly like threats of violence to me and a negative perversion of what should be a positive message. Call me crazy, but I just don't care for being advised of my inevitable hideous suffering in lurid, salacious detail by anyone.
When I sometimes begin to feel a sad sort of cynicism in the condition of the human race and the unpleasantness of human behavior I usually go take a hike. Literally. This is because there is a unique bond between nature lovers, even those who are absolute strangers. When I go hiking I always have a positive experience interacting with others, no matter how briefly. I tend to hike in some pretty remote areas and don't bump into a lot of other people, but when I do we invariably exchange wide smiles, friendly greetings, and comments on the beauty of the day and the surroundings. It is brief, but very genuine and spiritually uplifting to have so brief a meeting be so utterly positive and just plain nice. Despite the fact that you have no idea who the other people are and are unlikely to ever see them again, you share a very powerful love of nature that you instantly recognize in each other and that sharing makes you feel really good. I have never had a negative experience with anyone I have met on a hiking trail and I have been in situations where I have stopped to help others, exchanged supplies, and shared information. Always, it has been a positive and happy experience. My advice, for whatever it's worth, is that when you get to a point where life seems entirely unpleasant and people with whom you have interacted even more so – go take a hike. It will restore your faith in many things.
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