Hey, it’s not MY problem!

Hey, it’s not MY problem! It’s a message we here every day, whether explicitly or inferred by actions (another flavor includes “I can’t help you”). Each day, more and more people have decided that the next guy doesn’t matter because they’re too busy thinking about #1: themselves.
This reality is quite perturbing, even if you happen to be one of the narcissistic folks that has subscribed to this universal approach to life’s many challenges.

The scary part about this is that selfish people are more common than any other box you can put people in; that is, having this mentality is more the rule than it is the exception. The root cause is often elusive but I’d say it can easily be blamed on bad parents, “society”, and a paradigm shift in the global culture. I particularly find that this disease of ignorance is spreading rapidly in our homeland of the United States of A. Let’s assume that the “A” now stands for something I probably should not publish here, just in case there are kids in the audience; after all, the way people act these days, it might as well mean just that!

The shift in culture now tells people that being materialistic, cut-throat, and under-handed are essential ingredients in success and happiness alike. There has been a sort of ebb and flow in the progression-regression of mankind, and it seems we are yet again in a downward spiral. All you need to do is look at the mass media to see the signs. People have bought into these lies and common sense has, once again, been tailored to be not so much sense or logic, but definitely commonplace (lamentably so). Common sense itself has been rewritten or completely thrown out the window. I seem to recall something about the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated (or something to that effect). I find that this works really well. Two edgy/grumpy/narcissistic people can rarely ever stop the madness and put an end to that ubiquitous vicious circle.

Yes, this is yet another one of my rantings but I assure you that there are lessons to be learned here: for everyone. The problem with the “hey, it’s not my problem” is that it assumes that you have exclusive rights, superiority, or some sort of self-appointed title that gives you immunity to bothersome things. These beliefs are often rooted in racism, social casting, close-minded thinking, and various biases. Take, for example, the everyday scene of the person whining about how they have it so rough. Whether or not they have hardships does not stand to question ever cause, heck, we all do, but some folks think that warrants poor customer service or bad attitudes. I particularly enjoy it when a servicer acts as if they are doing you a favor when they finally give you some attention, even though it is their JOB and they are doing the bare minimum just to earn that paycheck (or are they)?

We all know that person that complains about their situations constantly, the self-proclaimed victim and martyr, the biggest demanders of attention that anyone can ever meet in their lives. Chances are they blame the world for all the wrongs, externalizing fault and responsibility, thus never finding real resolution. I admit, I’ve been guilty myself and I don’t think anyone reading this hasn’t done it before but we live and learn… Or we don’t. I think society is missing people that have a “buck stops here” attitude. Everyone is too busy, too stressed, too tired, and too annoyed to bother with things that are not important (to them). No one has time, we’re all too busy (or at least that is the escape clause we often turn to). Flip the situation around, of course, and these same people become street evangelists. Interesting how we often expect those things we do not render other such as simple common courtesies – oops, common sense has been downgraded. “My bad.”

I think this is at the heart of business failure these days. I have met so many business owners, most of which I avoided doing business with as a consumer or a consultant alike, that ooze with the “give your money and leave” air. It’s so obvious that they do not really care about going the extra mile or doing the little things to get the return business and accolades, the things they think they “deserve”. Ah, yes, therein lies the rub: people think they deserve things or are owed things so they almost stop trying to earn them.

Whether you base the feeling of being “deserving” upon a past of oppression, bad experiences that caused a change in your ideals, or just because you can get away with it, it’s a nasty habit. Now, I am not saying you, the reader, is guilty so take my “you” as the pronoun for “those that fit the bill”. In any case, whatever the reason for being a not-so-friendly person may be, there is another knee-kicker of a cliche that I find works very well for these folks “get over yourself” (or “get over it”).

I’ll share a story of one of the most inconsiderate yet otherwise loveable people that I know: my own little brother. It so happens that I share a living quarters with him and, while our work lives keep us busy on the most part, sometimes there is a clear conflict between what I feel is common courtesy and what he feels is appropriate. Simple case at hand: I am sleeping to save up energy for a long work day and he apparently makes every effort to make extra noise. When confronted in a friendly manner, his only retort is “tough, I’ve been through worse”.

His logic is this: he often goes to work on two hours of sleep and he is going to school to complete his master’s so I can’t even begin to understand. Why does he believe this? Well, his worldview has him believing that people that do not work traditional jobs, such as small business owners and freelancers like myself, do not work so hard. His worldview also tells him that he is in a bargaining position because I finished college long ago but I never reached his current level of studies. Perhaps I am reading into things a bit much or perhaps I am just a master of reading between the lines but, any way you chop it up, it is clear that he does not feel that my view on the matter means anything.

Flip the same situation around and this is the same guy that will call my cell phone when he is in the next room just to let me know that the TV is approximately two notches too high. Fascinating! I actually find it funny how people like my brother even manage to build business relationships, let alone make friends, when they lack some serious interpersonal skills. Now, the fact of the matter is that he’s a great guy to hang out with and he has a good heart but, when he is in his “I am the victim” mode, not even the OJ Simpson defense team could help you out, brown paper bag trap or not.

It’s bizarre but he is not alone in this group of elitist, snobs, and “angry black women”. Yes, I said angry black women not to single anyone out but to point out one of many biases that people use to give them the right to be part of the US of A (where “A” is stinky and not very pleasant at all): people see a black woman and they generally think that they will receive ho-hum service. What people don’t realize is that sometimes their perceptions become attitudes that create self-fulfilling prophecies; that is, they actually compel those around them to conduct themselves in the manner they are expected to act.

The phenomenom behind the “it’s not my problem” attitude will have people feel that these other folks are just jerks for not seeing their way. To them, their way is the right way, the only way, so they will not budge. For all intents and purposes, these people have given up their humanity and have become giant boulders; immovable, without warmth, and perfectly happy sticking to their position, even if there are many other positions they can occupy.

Here is my call to action: if you find it annoying when people tell you “I can’t help you” or “that’s not my department” or “not my problem”, consider how many times you do that and do something about it. It’s much easier to fix ourselves than those around us and we could all stand for more self improvement, present party included. I have found that applying simple common courtesy rules in daily interactions not only makes you more friends but also makes your customers happy, whomever they may be. Surely, this is common sense, right? Wrong. Go back a few paragraphs. The rules have changed so we must adapt if we are to have an edge over the “bottom suckers”.

The rule of thumb for dealing with human conflict is this: ask yourself the right questions. How would I feel if I was in this situation? How would I like to be talked to? How would I like to be treated? Very simple. Asking yourself “why is this person such a jerk” or “should I punch him/her or not” only makes your position defensive and lends to uglier altercations.

I have one more example of how this lack of tact and common courtesy can make for some disgusting “kibbles-and-bits”. Allow me to share it with you as I close this beefy piece out! I have a business partner that is a really great guy. He’s got great skills, a great sense of humor, and he is generally fun to be around if you get to know him. He tends to get a bad wrap, however, because he tends to project verbal vomit; that is, he thinks out loud when he should be measuring his words. To say the least, he is quick to jump the gun and even I, with my immense patience and tolerance for silliness, find myself wanting to press the MUTE button on our conversations at times.

My partner has fallen for the fallacy of status, just like my brother, so I went from being an equal partner to a petty dealmaker. From the tone he took on, I owed him my life and had no choice but to play according to his rules. His statements often become ridden with ego and, if you ever remotely seem to be attacking him, he’ll be quick to defend himself rather than trying to discern why a statement was made or what it really means. Truth be told, I walk on egg shells for this guy simply because I am always afraid I may unwillingly offend him, even when joking around, like friends do. He also succumbs to another fallacy: he can’t take his own medicine. Ah yes, hypocrisy makes the soul complete! Actually, it does not but, again, some people would have you think so!

Just recently, I worked on a bid for a large project whereas the businesses I represent, including joint ventures between us, would provide a whole suite of services under one all-encompassing plan. It was a brilliant strategy that had and has our client excited. Instead of being happy that I appointed him as the lead for one of the major deliverables, a huge project on it’s own, he immediately attacked me with questions of money matters. He did not want to deal with what the client wanted, why they went with us, what our plan is, or any of that. It was just all about him.

Being a flexible person, I made some allocations to be able to pay him more than any partner on our team is currently making yet, somehow, that was not enough for him. Mind you, he would not have had this business if I did not actively work on it and keep him in mind. So much for gratitude!

Naturally, there was something bugging him so I didn’t hold his nastiness against him because, really, it was much more than acting like a greedy little dwarf. That moment could have been a defining moment where we would have dissolved our partnership and gone our separate ways but we took a step back, took a deep breath, and got to the heart of matters. It was worth the minute of frustration because then we got a solid hour of “strategic planning” done. In the end, it just turned out that he was really strapped for cash and his own business ventures were not going so well. He had kept quiet all along rather than talking to me, his partner and friend, so I could help him out financially.

It just goes to show you that everyone has a bug up their you-know-what and sometimes we need to be wary of the hot buttons that can really set people off, in a bad way. Though there are many people that can give our business the technical know-how that my partner possesses and we have plenty of talent as it is, I would have hated to see our relationship hurt over silliness. Talking things out really works. It all comes down to your modus operandi or, better yet, your ideals and ethics that comprise your habits and logic.

For my partner, his recent experiences made him go into a sort of shell shock. He had experienced what many freelancers do: snobby customers, people that don’t pay on time (or at all), and people that sub-contract you, steal your intellectual property (such as a web or game design) and run away, and major financial challenges. On the flip side, he is in his 20’s, has a great girlfriend, owns a house, and has friends that really care about him. People get tunnel-visioned and they get focused on the immediate nuissance and biases, rather than looking at the big picture that everyone always talks about.

It was because of these experiences and more that he took a very static stance: these are my requirements and, if it doesn’t work, get someone else on the project. At one point, I tried to work with him and his answer became “I don’t know what to tell you man” (which is just a nice way of saying “not my problem”). These are the things that happen in businesses day in and day out. I’ve sat on board meetings that made Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There’s simply too much ego in the world and, more and more, people need to learn to get over themselves and just talk things out in a friendly, casual manner.

To me, one of the most amazing things is that so many businesses are a few steps away from bankruptcy and they don’t even know it. They use strong-arm tactics and basically bully people around. They buy into the social casting rhetoric and make other people feel so small that any abuse they receive thereafter will feel as if it is perfectly appropriate, deserved perhaps. It’s a strange new world we live in but it’s not a lost cause if we all take personal responsibility of things and make a small ripple in the waters of social networking. Remember: no man is an island…

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