business news in context, analysis with attitude

There was a really good piece in the Boston Globe that challenged the paper’s readers to be nicer to each other.

Here’s how columnist Nestor Ramos positioned his argument:

“You know who’s the worst?

“That guy who runs up to a crowded Red Line train, pushing past the people waiting for passengers to get off, and forces his way through the doors. That guy got me again the other day, cramming himself into the last space on a packed car instead of letting the older woman who’d been waiting far longer have the spot.
Excepting for sociopaths and Yankee fans, nobody really wants to be that guy, right?

“And yet, somehow, that guy is all over the place, driving around with yesterday’s parking ticket still stuck under his wiper. I’d go so far as to say we’re all that guy, at one time or another.

“We do a lot of world-changing work around here — medical and technological breakthroughs, pioneering social science, the New England IPA. And we’ve led the way in social policies, like MassHealth and same-sex marriage, that look out for the well-being and dignity of our fellow people.

“So why does it seem like so many of us are being our worst selves when we encounter each other in the real world? We treat every inch in traffic or on the sidewalk with the kind of territorialism associated with NASCAR tracks or international border skirmishes … Some days, living in Greater Boston feels like starring in a minor-key remake of The Hunger Games, in which everything is a zero-sum contest and every act of common courtesy is a show of weakness.”

I have news for Ramos. It isn’t just Boston. And I’m not sure it is a new phenomenon. It ain’t just the politics of the moment.

I’ve argued for a long time - it makes Mrs. Content Guy nuts - that in some ways the fabric of society is pulling apart, that respect for basic rules of civility is on the decline throughout the culture. I hate that I’ve been proven right, and that I seem to get righter with every passing day.

Ramos writes that in the end, this shouldn’t be hard - “it’s about decency, dignity, and common courtesy.

“Solutions are in short supply,” he writes, “but here’s what I’m going to do: Give people — strangers especially — the benefit of the doubt.”

I agree. I always try to be courteous - that’s how I was raised - but I’m going to try to be more so. It is, in the end, usually easier to be friendly, kind and patient than to be what Thomas Hobbes called “nasty, brutish and short.”

The Globe piece is worth reading here.

The new independent movie Sorry To Bother You, as it happens, takes place in a reality in which human cruelty seems to be the prevailing currency. The reviews keep referring to it as an “alternate reality,” but I’m not sure this is true, though I will concede that Sorry To Bother You is in many ways the weirdest and most brutal episode of “The Twilight Zone” ever made.

The movie takes place in Oakland, California, where Cassius Green takes a job as a telemarketer because, from all appearances, he’s not really good at anything and doesn’t have any options. He lies during the job interview, but that only makes him more attractive to the company - it suggests a lack of ethics that makes him perfect to try to sell things to people over the telephone, especially at dinnertime.

What Cassius, as played Lakeith Stanfield, quickly discovers is that telemarketing isn’t easy; what one of his co-workers, played by Danny Glover, explains to him is that if he wants to be trusted and successful, he needs to adopt a “white voice” that hides his ethnicity.

What happens then is that Cassius becomes amazingly successful, which results in his moving up the ladder of success. But there are costs, as he finds himself in a brutal corporate environment that lures him deeper and deeper into ethical quandaries with the promises of greater rewards. If all you want is power and wealth, then civility and decency matter less and less.

And that’s when the movie gets really, really weird. I mean, really weird.

That said, I really liked Sorry To Bother You - it is profane and macabre and vivid and unsettling and, entirely on purpose, bothersome. The movie is written and directed by Boots Riley, and the cast is terrific - especially Tessa Thomson, Terry Crews, and Armie Hammer, as well as Stanfield and Glover.

Sorry To Bother You isn’t for everyone, but I recommend it.

At the other end of the civility spectrum, let me suggest that you read this Washington Post piece about the coming return of Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame, in a new series that will portray his post-USS Enterprise life.

I made mention of this new series earlier this week, but I really like this Post piece, mostly because it suggests that Picard, played by the great Patrick Stewart, represents the best set of leadership traits in all of Starfleet. (He also reflects the best of what humanity is capable, whether in fact or fiction.)

The piece goes on:

“Unlike some other captains, Picard never went off half-cocked in reaction to a setback. Although he did violate the Prime Directive from time to time, his instinct was always to avoid interventions if at all possible. He was a skilled negotiator when negotiation was called for, but also willing to take the initiative when encountering great power instability. He knew how to lean on allies and adversaries alike.”

Make sure you watch the video clips embedded in the piece. They are terrific examples of the point the Post wants to make.

That’s it for this week.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: