Just Don’t Rub ‘Em the Wrong Way

There are parts of that job that I disliked intently.  But it wasn’t all bad.  The real electrician was a jokester, setting me, his helper, up for one practical joke after another (“Do you want to see an Aggie trailer?  Follow me”…and like the dummy I was…), including the ever popular “ZZZZZT!”, uttered loudly as I worked with a live circuit.  Funny how things stick in your memory for years…Today, I’ve been thinking about a time when we were trouble-shooting a problem with the lights at the local convenience store.  Their fluorescent fixtures wouldn’t come on immediately when they were turned on in the morning, leaving them in partial darkness for awhile.  Baffled, we made a call to the manufacturer and they gave us an unexpected procedure to remedy the problem; With a clean rag, wipe off the surface of the bulbs.  Sure enough, we showed up early one morning and started rubbing on the bulbs.  Swish, one bulb on…swish, another on…It was amazing!  We had thought that we’d have to replace bulbs or sockets, perhaps even the ballasts (it controls the current in the bulb), but needed nothing more than a simple swipe down the lamp’s length and the problem was fixed.

The best part of the incident was the interaction between a couple of the patrons sitting in the shop.  As the man and his buddy sipped their coffee and watched our progress across the store, this fellow, obviously a deep thinker, observed to his friend, “Would you look at that?  He just rubs that bulb with his magic rag and it lights up!”  And his pal, thinking he was quite a wit, replied,  “Yeah, I wonder if he’d let me take the rag home and use it on my wife…”  Everybody laughed loudly (including me) and we continued the job until all the lights were glowing brightly as God intended (well, you know what I mean). 

I spent a year and a half on that job over 25 years ago, mostly wishing that I was back in the music business, but that one incident still sticks in my head.  Not only was it funny, and I love a good (or bad) joke, but it has made me remember repeatedly that many of our problems have very simple solutions.  We anguish over multiple scenarios in our heads, sure that we’ll have to spend too much or work too hard, only to find that a simple answer is staring us in the face all along.  This idea is not new with me.  You’ve heard it in the “work smarter, not harder” slogan, the “min-max principle” (minimum effort, maximum performance), and other motivational cliche’s.  But, you know, there’s also a different connotation to the event.

You can also apply the two guys’ conversation to the subject to which it referred, relationships between people.  I’ve finally figured out (pretty late in life) that we all have a magic rag and have always had it.  I just don’t always ply it so well.  Want to see your spouse light up?  Try rubbing them with a compliment.  You don’t have to make it a big thing, just a “Your hair looks nice today” or a “You make the best Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!”.  Okay, maybe not that last one, but it works for me since mac & cheese is my comfort food and she knows that.  Want to see your kids brighten up?  Mention how well they do some small thing.  They may die of shock, since we seem to be a lot better at criticizing, but they’ll love the attention.

We men are usually jerks, thinking that complimenting others shows weakness and devalues us.  It doesn’t!  It’s not a “zero sum game”, where one person wins and the other loses.  Turns out, in any good relationship, when one person benefits, everyone in the relationship reaps the profit.  The saying “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is only a negative way of expressing this truth.  When she’s happy, the rest of the family has something to celebrate.  And, when the kids feel important, life gets a lot smoother for the parents and siblings.

One other thing:  Don’t make stuff up!  If the compliment isn’t real, you’re using sandpaper instead of the magic rag.  How dumb do you think they are?  Flattery isn’t positive, it’s destructive.  Be honest, but be kind! 

And with that, I’ve said enough.  Got to go home and see her light up once more today… 

“I like her because she smiles at me and means it.”  ~Anonymous

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