Friday, November 30, 2018

The Man's the Gowd For A' That

The title here is the last line of the first verse of the Robert Burns' poem and song commonly referred to as "A Man's a Man." For the late 1790's, it reflected a huge portion of the enlightenment's understanding of human kind.

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that; 
The coward slave - we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that!
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.
What makes me think of this today?

Simple, a short phone call that was followed by a short conversation with my lady-wife.

I've been looking for a new software adventure for some time. Yes, I've had several opportunities come across the desk, many have not felt right to me. Some I applied for and things have been slow in progressing. A week or so ago, a placement specialist/recruiter/head-hunter called me. He had seen the resume I submitted for a different position, and wondered if I would be interested in one that had come into their office that morning.

He then described the job I was looking for.

We talked about the generalities and then dug down into greater specifics, as these conversations tend to go. He said he'd run the information past his manager and get back to me. An hour or so later he called again. We chatted some more.

I made a couple minor tweaks to the cover letter and resume to tailor it better for this position (not making things up - it bugs me when people do that - but emphasizing work I took for granted that others not doing stuff with Agile or Scrum or Testing would be looking for.

We agreed on a billable rate and off we went.

We had a couple emails back and forth since then, just checking in.

Last night, as we were watching the fish in the fish tank (really, that is what we were doing) waiting for the "dinner's greatest hits" to warm up in the oven, the phone rang - it was him again.

"Hello, is this Pete?"
"Yes it is."
"Hi Pete, this is {him} we talked last week about submitting you for a position at {company}. Do you remember?"
"Of course, {him} I remember. How are you doing today?"

A simple polite nothing - small talk in some ways, but a bridge that is so important.

The change in tone and energy was immediate. From being rather mechanical, almost awkward, everything became much more human.

"I am good today, thank you for asking."

The manner of the conversation changed with that simple question. Recognizing him as a person, recognizing he was trying to do good work to support his family and, incidentally, help a client company connect with a candidate with specific skills.

We finished the business, I wished him a good evening at the end and the conversation ended.

My lady-wife was watching with great interest.

"His entire energy changed when you asked how he was doing, didn't it."

Yup. It did. At the end, you could almost hear him smiling.

Sometimes, the purpose of such small things as asking how someone is, asked in a sincere manner, does more for that person than any other thing you could do right then. Such "polite nothings" are similar to the honorifics that once were part of everyday society.

"Good morning, Mr Jones."
"Good afternoon, Miss Radzikowska."
"Good evening, Ms Neal."

Giving people such a greeting sometimes feels awkward today, when many people cast off such artifice and defer to first names as being more "real" or "honest."

I'm not so sure.

I prefer to not abandon them out of hand and presume a familiarity that is not honestly present. Such things help keep the wheels and cogs of society moving as smoothly as possible, when they tend to be clunky at best.

Reach out with open handed kindness to another human person. Recognize them as worthy of respect and kindness. We don't know what they are struggling with themselves and sometimes small things might help them get through the day.

Be kind, even when it is hard for you to feel kind.

As Burns wrote over 200 years ago -
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

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