Today I had to check in with the unemployment office to clear up a benefit extension issue.  I took a number and got lucky; there weren’t many people there and I got called in an hour.

The guy behind the counter was older – maybe early sixties.  He said, “let’s see your ID, write your name and phone number here, and don’t ask any questions until I’m finished.”

I handed him the letters I’d received.  He started typing on his computer keyboard.  I started to succinctly explain why the letters had motivated me to be there.

He put his finger up and said, “hey, no questions.”

He talked (mostly to himself) as he got some info from me and entered data.

He said something that made me utter: “Did…?”

He put up the finger again.  “Uh uh, no questions.”

He said there was a process and I’d be good for another nine weeks.  The part of my brain that worships Homer Simpson said, “I thought it was a year.” (That’s why I was there – conflicting government correspondence.)

Again with the finger.  “No questions.”  This time he smiled a little.

Then he explained that benefit extensions would terminate at the end of the year, but I had to re-apply every few months until then.

I told him he was good at his job, bid him good day, then left and came home and watched Tropic Thunder (good movie).

My point?  I was nice to him.  What did I get in return?  My question answered after the necessary red tape – in under five minutes.

Many people would get angry and upset with the guy.  “Who’s this old bastard think he is?  He thinks he can keep telling me to shut up?  I’ve got questions, dammit!  A LOT of questions!  Look at this smug old prick in his rumpled outdated suit!  I oughta kick his wrinkled old ass!”

And THAT’S why they have an armed security guard walking around keeping an eye on everything.

But I approached it a different way.  I saw immediately that he had probably been working there a long, long time.  He was a professional, but he also dealt with the dregs of society – many who don’t even speak English – day-in-day-out.  Maybe hundreds a day if it got busy.  I mean, it wasn’t crowded, but you should have seen the hooker heels and death metal t-shirts.  And sombreros.  Okay, not sombreros.  I made that part up.

I was polite and did as he said.  I really was trying to listen and not ask questions, but my Abby-Someone brain is too fast sometimes.  But I knew if I were patient – unlike 98% of his clientele – that I would get a good answer and be out of there as quickly as possible.  Plus, I got him to crack a smile.

Patience is a virtue, and one I’ve found quite valuable.  And always consider the other guy’s probable backstory.  I want to wrap things up with my favorite Atticus Finch quote from To Kill a Mockingbird:

First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”