We all hate standing in line. We hate it even more when someone has the nerve to cut. If you’re like most people, you probably hold your tongue and roll your eyes. Nobody likes to cause a scene. What would people think!
I’m like most people. Until this one time when I wasn’t. I had a doctor appointment at Cleveland Clinic. After what seemed like an eternity inching forward between the designated ropes, I reached the head of the line and stood obediently next to The Sign. You know the one: “Please wait for the next available check-in agent.” Just then, a man breezed right past me to the desk. My first reaction was a heavy sigh. If I had been a cartoon, you would have seen a sharp squiggly line above my head indicating steam. I was pissed. And outraged. After all, I had followed the rules. It's MY turn!
An image of Larry David popped into my head. He’s the creator of the hit television series Seinfeld and it is widely known that the politically incorrect character George Costanza is based on him. David went on to play a not-so-loosely based version of himself in another hit series, the cringe-worthy Curb Your Enthusiasm. I say “cringe-worthy” because this character has no filter. If he thinks it, he says it. He’s constantly causing a scene. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
Back to the Cleveland Clinic Check-In desk: I had a choice. Should I say something this time? A colleague of mine once gave me a guideline for when to speak up and when to stay mum. First ask yourself
The Three Questions:
1. Does something need to be said?
My Inner Larry David said “Hell yes!”
2. Does something need to be said by me?
Clearly no one else there was motivated to champion my cause, so yes, it’s on me.
3. Does something need to be said right now?
The Cutter would be called back to the maze of exam rooms if I didn’t act fast. It’s now or never.
I had just finished mentally scanning The Three Questions when an agent next to The Cutter's waved me over. I handed him my insurance card, ID and credit card before swiveling to face the man who had the audacity to take what was rightfully mine.
ME (sweetly): “Excuse me, sir.”
CUTTER: No response. He didn’t even look up.
ME (more firmly this time): “Sir? Excuse me.”
Success! He looked up this time, puzzled.
ME (smiling): “Am I invisible?”
CUTTER (more puzzled than before): “What?”
ME (still smiling sweetly): ‘"Can you see me standing here?’”
CUTTER (still clueless): “Huh?”
ME: “I said, 'Do you see me standing here?'”
ME (feigning confusion): “Oh. Um, I’m afraid I don't understand. I thought I must have been invisible when you walked to the desk when I was first in line back there.”
CUTTER (fumbling a response): “Um. Aaaah. I didn’t realize there was a line.”
ME: “Oh.” (Pause) “OK.”
I let The Cutter off gently, even though Larry David would have gone for the jugular. I had proved my point.
I then turned my attention to the horrified check-in agent. We finished the check-in process before The Cutter was done, so I sat down in the first row of chairs where I was to wait for a nurse to summon me. I was certain the guy would slink to a chair in the back row, wishing he were the invisible one because I had called him on his $!*#.
To my surprise, seconds later I felt a light tap on my shoulder. There he was, chin down and head tilted to the side like a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have gone ahead of you.”
To which I graciously replied, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” We completed the exchange with smiles. All was forgiven.
Of course I immediately analyzed the episode. I am a therapist after all, and that's what we therapists do. What came to me was that we all need to call upon our Inner Larry David occasionally. At the same time, it is important to treat others with dignity, to give them a little room to step up and be their Best Self.
I am convinced that in using a little mystery and keeping our exchange playful, I allowed The Cutter the chance to take responsibility for his behavior without fear of attack. And so he did just that. I’d like to think that he felt better about himself after it was over. I know I did.
“Work at not caring what other people think. When you do that, you are finally free to be who you really are.” – Rabbi Nachman of Breslav.