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Taking life with a grin or a grumble: It's the individual's choice

October 22, 2012

By Lynda Hollenbeck

The day didn't start out badly, but that state of affairs wasn't to last long.
Everyone has had experiences like those that befell me on a recent Friday. It wasn't a Friday the 13th, but it well might have been. No one I encountered was happy.
Let me back up. People who work here were not particularly unpleasant. It was the walk-ins and call-ins that set the tone for all-around bad karma.
We're used to dealing with complaints from disgruntled people. It's a situation that simply goes with the territory.
One has to learn not to take such things personally, and I've had years of practice. Make that a lot of years as in 40-plus.
But on this day, the unpleasant folk were well into the majority. Most of the time I can turn the situation around to where the complainant is OK when the encounter is over. I've learned to be firm when someone is unreasonable without being insulting. And I try to helpful, even when saying, "No, we can't do that."
It does no good whatsoever to trade insult for insult, and I've felt the sting of many insults along the way.
It calls to mind the old "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
Sounds good, but it's entirely untrue. Names do hurt. A lot. But, again, I know not to sling back.
However, there are limits. I refuse to be yelled at or cursed. When the individual, either in person or on the phone, begins either of those acts, I will say, "I'll talk to you and I'll listen as long as you don't yell or curse, but I will hang up if you do either."
Usually, that has a calming effect, though not always, and sometimes I have had to make good on my promise.
On this particular day among the grumpy was a not-at-all-happy individual who wanted to be paid for a submitted photo, which isn't our practice. This person implied that the newspaper or I individually would be receiving compensation for the picture, which, of course, was not the case. Additional slurs were cast, including some about my personal appearance.
It was not an ego-building moment. I was relieved when he left. That was enough for one day, but the day was far from over.
About an hour later, Circulation Director Andrew Stovall transferred a call to me. I don't know what I expected, but not what I got.
The caller was extremely angry and lashed out at me because of his objection to a newspaper policy that was not set by me, but which I and other employees must adhere to, as I explained to him.
The man was no stranger to me. I had dealt with him on many occasions, all of which previously were pleasant.
In this call, however, he told me that The Saline Courier "prints nothing but trash."
He is affiliated with a local church, which has submitted items for publications many, many times through the years. I pointed all of this out to him and asked him if he considered those accounts to be trash, but he didn't acknowledge the question. He wasn't budging from his hostile stance.
Specifically, he objected to The Saline Courier's policy regarding obituaries, which are accepted only from funeral homes and which require a set payment.
Death notices are published without charge, which I explained to the caller, but these still must come from a funeral home, not from someone walking in off the street.
I could add more, but suffice it to say that this individual wanted to be mad, I was the target and nothing was going to change that fact.
"What's going on?" I asked to anyone listening when the call ended. "Why is everyone so angry?"
The day finally came to a blessed end.
At the start of a new week, I encountered an entirely different kind of reader, which, thankfully, gave me an entirely different outlook on what people expect.
Although the reader didn't identify herself, I am assuming it is a woman, judging from her handwriting and the content of the charming poem she submitted in response to a column I recently wrote.
In that column, I had bemoaned the dreadful effect humidity plays on my hair. This charming reader took pity on me and sent the following poem:
Please don't complain about your hair.
Don't worry, dear, and don't despair.
For when I meet you on the street,
Your hair is always nice and neat.
What if you had a 'mop' like some
That stands straight up or sticks like gum?
Your color frames your smiling face
And shows that you have poise and grace.
God blessed you, so just say a prayer
And thank Him daily for your hair.
If rain brings curls, don't fret or fuss;
Be thankful you're not ONE OF US!
If I knew who sent this to me, I'd send her a bouquet of flowers. She sounds like a real charmer.
She lifted my spirits and helped me realize anew that most people are reasonable and kind.
The contrast in personalities called to mind a saying of my late spouse: "You can take life with a grin or a grumble. It's your choice."
Grinning is just a whole lot more fun.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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