Yet Another Leadership Challenge: Respecting Space…

The gamblers…

I couldn’t possibly have made up the story I’m about to share with you. No, my imagination’s just not that good. Still, this story inspired yet another leadership challenge that I thought might resonate with you.

But what made me decide to share this particular true story?

I just couldn’t resist. I’d just finished my last story about my dinner with some buddies and the loves of their lives (their smart phones). I wrote about how dinner began with them totally ignoring me. They were squinting deeply into the screens of the loves of their lives. At that moment, I made a decision: No way was I going to pay for my dinner that evening. No way. Instead, I decided one of my buddies would pay for my dinner. The only question was how I could pull this off?

I knew I had one huge advantage: They were all gamblers…

a-gambler-is-nothing-but-a-man-who-makes-his-living-out-of-hope-quote-1

I asked them if they thought they could tear themselves away from their phones for a few hours during dinner? “Of course,” they said…

I then asked if they would put their money where their mouths were? “Of course,” they agreed. “Fine,” said I. “The first to look at your phone during dinner pays for my dinner.” They accepted my challenge…

How could I possibly lose, I thought? For me, this wasn’t a gamble—unless I was the first to look at my own phone. Why? Well, if I did, I had agreed to pay for everyone’s dinner. But that wasn’t gonna happen… No way!

I immediately ordered the most expensive dishes I could find on the menu…

The result was a good-news-and-bad-news scenario: The bad news was that they all met my challenge and I had to pay for my own dinner. The good news was that, during that 2-hour phone-free period, we had all rediscovered long-lost friendships, which was absolutely great!

The gift this offered was how smartphones can make it really difficult to be “present” and to focus on the task at hand. And this could really make it difficult to bring your ideas to life. The solution was sometimes to turn off your smartphones.

That was my last story. And with this still fresh in my mind, I was thinking about smartphones even though I was now sitting with my 89-year-old mother in a semi-private room at the UCLA hospital in Santa Monica.

She had suffered a fall a few days earlier and had cracked three ribs. She was now a desperately unhappy and uncomfortable camper. All that separated us from the other patient in that room were two paper-thin curtains. Fortunately for this story, my mother’s roommate wasn’t alone. She was there with the love of her life—her smartphone…

And therein hangs this absolutely true tale that offers an invaluable gift about space… It also offers yet another leadership and emotional intelligence challenge…

This story and its gift…

Everything I’m now going to tell you I overheard courtesy of my mother’s roommate. During a 3-hour period from hell, she either made or received a dozen calls on her smart phone. Neither my mother nor I spoke to her even once. No, not even once. All that separated us from her were those two thin curtains… Did she know we were there? Hell, yes!

And, in case you think I’m a serial eavesdropper, I’m not. During this 3-hour period from hell, I was actually trying NOT to listen to her. I wore headphones as I tried to drown her chatter by listening to music with the volume turned up to the max. That should give you an idea of how loud she spoke—and the weakness of my computer’s sound system. I had failed miserably to drown her out. And, as you might imagine—or as you will come to learn, the result was brutal…

quote-Lynda-Barry-i-do-love-to-eavesdrop-its-inspirational-149683

So, allow me to jump to the end of the story and describe in a little more detail the gift this story will offer—

The next time you speak on your smartphone and there are people near you who can hear whatever you are saying, you might want to think about this:

As difficult as this might be for you to accept, the ONLY person who might be even MILDLY interested in what you are saying is the person to whom you are speaking on your phone. And even then, if I were you, I wouldn’t necessarily take THAT to the bank…

Trust me here:

Nobody within earshot is even REMOTELY interested in listening to the most intimate details of your life. And more importantly, by sharing your conversation with everyone within earshot, you are being both rude and inconsiderate to those who can hear you. You are invading their space…

And nobody who’s space you’ve invaded by forcing them to listen to you on these calls will EVER want to work with you or to spend any time with you… Nobody! And if you are ever counting on them to help you bring your ideas to life, f’get it!!! Its not gonna happen…

The gift:

You simply have to respect the space of those around you…

Invading space

About the roommate…

After reading this, in the extremely unlikely event that curiosity gets the better of you and you want to know more about my mother’s roommate, you should seek immediate medical help. Just as those men who take magic blue pills and who then have an erection that lasts more than 4 hours, you should consult a doctor immediately…

In the interests of your emotional well-being, I’ve deliberately omitted a lot of the detail here. My only goal is to give you a sense of the moment—and a sense of the breadth of information that she shared with those within earshot during that intense 3-hour window.

First, she felt that those of us behind the curtains should know this—

A few months earlier, she explained, she’d noticed a growth on her husband’s face. She’d BEGGED him many many times to see a dermatologist, but he didn’t. Then he did…

It turned out he had a form of skin cancer that required surgery. Naturally, she insisted on being present for the surgery, which required multiple incisions. She then described each incision with such gusto and attention to detail that I admit to feeling a tad queasy as she vividly described the ooze and the goo she saw.

She also naturally described how he looked after the surgery. Not surprisingly, she described him as the next Phantom of the Opera. She chuckled. Then I chuckled as I remembered one particular Phantom poster…

Phantom

I would keep calm, I decided… I must keep calm, I assured myself… But how, I wondered??? My mind had already started that journey through a strange new world…

Then she interrupted my thoughts as she modestly described how selflessly she had always doted on her man. She also strongly suggested that, but for her, he might have even contemplated suicide. Yes, she was a true lifesaver…

I was sorely tempted to put my head through the curtains to ask her if her husband was grateful or resentful for her intervention in his contemplated suicide, but I didn’t… Had her husband sought out my advice, I would have strongly urged him to consider suicide—particularly if the alternative was to remain married to this woman.

She then moved to an event she was missing. At that very moment, she complained, she was missing a friend’s daughter’s family function. She’d made scrumptiously delicious appetizers for the function and she knew with an absolute certainty that her offerings would overshadow all the other food offerings. She was just so sorry not to be there to accept the outpouring of admiration that those tastings would generate.

She then revealed that she had bought a wonderfully sexy outfit for the function, but she wasn’t upset or worried. Why? Well, she was absolutely sure she’d find another occasion to display her new ensemble.

Again, I have to interrupt myself for just a moment. I just can’t resist offering my two cents worth here—

Considering her age, figure, weight and brutal personality, I had some difficulty wrapping my mind around what she could possibly have bought that could have transformed her into someone “wonderfully sexy”—unless, of course, someone else would be wearing what she had bought. But that probably says more about me and my lack of imagination than anything else…

That said, I do have one admission I’m embarrassed to make, though…

Between calls, the roommate asked a nurse to help take her to the bathroom. As she was moved from her bed, inexplicably the curtains separated just a tad. That forced me to catch a glimpse of her standing with her back towards me. Her gown had opened to reveal a naked back and a naked lower torso that simply defied any possible description. Would you believe me if I said this was a magical moment? Might this be the instant cure for anyone suffering from a 4-hour erection, I thought? And, in the unlikely case any of you are worried for me, my immediate and instantaneous nausea subsided after just a few minutes…

She also listed a number of guests who would be at the function she was missing. Each was either a “real bitch” or a “terrible person” or both…

I’m sure each of these folks were really sorry she wasn’t there. Surely each must be missing her desperately… Or maybe not…

Before getting to her present predicament, she described in some detail her difficulty in getting around because of her walker—and I did feel just a tad sorry for her. Without her walker, she said she would fall, The good news was that she was slowly getting used to it and to her multiple meds. Probably in response to a question of the meds she was taking, she offered a detailed list.

She also bemoaned the fact that she had to use a bedpan and how difficult it was to do #2.

You might not be surprised to know that that I didn’t want to hear this. I couldn’t help but wonder if whoever she was talking to wanted to hear it either… I somehow doubted it…

Then, just when I thought I couldn’t possibly be made to feel any more uncomfortable, she offered her pièce de la résistance. Out-of-the-blue and without any warning to those of us behind the curtain, she quite gratuitously described what she had to do after sex. Seems she immediately had to take an antibiotic…

I closed my eyes and tried to clear my head. I desperately needed to expunge any visions of her having sex from my mind. I wasn’t sure I could either cope with that vision—or recover from it. I shuddered involuntarily…

She then complained how unromantic this was. (No shit, thought I!) Instead of cuddling in her husband’s arms and hearing him whisper romantically how wonderful she was, she would have to leap out of bed to take her meds. Then she couldn’t resist sharing this: This was apparently all her husband’s fault. She speculated that it might have been his sperm that had resulted in her having to take these meds.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why am I sharing this with you? Why am I burdening you with this? My answer is that, if she felt that I really needed to know this, why shouldn’t you know it too? Doesn’t misery love company? A better question, though, was whether ANYONE needed to know this? No, I decided. Not really…

Moving back to her husband, she described the dilemma she faced. He’d apparently turned 65. She was trying to persuade him to postpone claiming social security until he was 66. If she could, she explained, they would rake in another $500 a month from his social security. And this would allow her to travel more. This was something she said she “deserved”…

Again, had her husband sought out my advice here, I would have suggested that he only delay claiming social security if she promised to travel alone.

Now for the important stuff, for which I did (and do) feel some real sympathy for her—

When she last fell, she went to see the doctor and tests were conducted. She asked if the fall was a product of her other maladies. When she was told it was not, she expressed relief.

The doctor effectively said: “Not so fast…”

They had apparently found a growth which the doctor suspected was malignant. Getting directly to the point, she asked the doctor if she’d die. With Solomonic wisdom, the doctor said she would die—eventually, but not necessarily from the growth.

She then told all of her buddies in some quite graphic detail the procedure she faced, which I’ll now spare you. What did surprise me was that she explained this as if someone else was facing it. She seemed totally devoid of emotion and even trepidation or fear. I could only admire her for this.

Some years ago, I was diagnosed with a much milder form of cancer and I really panicked. “Fear” was too mild an emotion to describe what I was experiencing. Part of me wanted to reassure her—until I realized she didn’t seem at all scared. Obviously she was in an advanced form of denial…

She then announced how she was totally certain she’d beat this. It was almost as if the cancer wouldn’t DARE to mess with her. No way, Jose! She spoke about the hair loss and the types of wigs she was thinking of buying. Certainly, if I was her cancer, I wouldn’t think of messing with her…

Happily, she didn’t share her thoughts about sex during the upcoming chemo. Had she done so, that would have forced me to consider the recently enacted California assisted-suicide law.

Of course, there was very much more information she shared about her kids and their kids—and about her friends and their kids and their friends and their kids and their friends and families. In the interests of your sanity and mine, I thought I’d spare you that…

I complained constantly to the nurses, but they couldn’t shut her up. After 3 hours, I demanded that the hospital find another room for my mother, which they did. I love UCLA…

Finally, back to the gift…

I apologize. I’ve tortured you enough. I began by telling you that I couldn’t have made any of this up. I hope you’ll now believe me…

I also hope I’ve made my point about respecting other people’s space when you use your phones. This person had invaded my space and had stolen more than 3-hours that I’ll never recover…

The result of this bizarre experience was that I vowed that the next time I use my smart phone, I’ll never invade anyone else’s space. Never… Ever… I won’t.. I promise… It won’t ever happen… Never… Ever… I promise…

And, if you’re a leader, I hope you’ll now realize you have a solemn obligation to fulfill: You HAVE  to insist that those around always respect the space of others… Always—and FOREVER…

One thought on “Yet Another Leadership Challenge: Respecting Space…”

Comments are closed.