Do you ever wonder how you’re viewed by others? It’s a totally natural concern (I tell myself whenever it crosses my mind). We are a social species, and presentation and perception are integral concepts that come along with that. For instance, based on that last sentence (and every sentence I write) I clearly try to present myself as a smart person, while you probably perceive me as pompous and pretentious; we have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t control how others think about us. There are probably two people in the world who absolutely hate me, and only one of them has a real reason to. But there’s nothing I can do about that other person’s impression. Generally, though, I would imagine most people think I’m a good guy, even if I am kind of mean and don’t pull punches when I probably should. Is it possible to change the way you’re viewed? I suppose small deeds can add up to adjustments in others’ conceptions of you. Let’s give it a shot, huh?
Recently one of my co-workers – another educator at the unnamed high school in South Los Angeles that I’m always talking about – found himself sans transportation. I’m no stranger to this situation; I worked at that school for a year and half without a car, riding the bus for over an hour each way every damn day. I could identify with this man’s predicament, so I was more than willing to give him a ride to and from work.
Now usually my rides to work are solitudinous affairs. In fact, I prefer to keep my waking hours as devoid of other people as possible. If I can go from my bedroom at 6 am to my car to my classroom without interacting with another person until school starts at 8 then I usually know it’s going to be a good day. This attitude has given me a bit of reputation around school as not being friendly in the morning (there’s that tricky “perception” issue again), but I honestly don’t mind being that guy. Despite my highly publicized demeanor, my ideal morning rarely actually happens. It’s just too difficult to protect myself on all sides from encroaching conversation.
I’ll be honest, my penchant for isolation had me a little worried in regards to how this carpool endeavor would work out, but for the most part it wasn’t that bad. It helps that my co-worker is a living human, able to have a dialogue. It also helps that we get along within the work setting. Sure, there were some awkward moments; there’s bound to be! I have no problem with silence – it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. But I know some people really start to panic when there’s no exchange of words. I have no idea if my co-worker is such a man, but the idea that he might be did make me a little uneasy, so I would flounder for chit-chat every now and then. Maybe that void would have been alleviated if we had listened to music, but thats a whole other dilemma, especially because the majority of the audio files on my phone are the cast recording of Hamilton or nerdy podcasts about movies – doesn’t exactly appeal to the masses.
We got through it though, and honestly it’s probably for the best. Spending your early hours in a bubble of seclusion is not the best way to start the day. Driving to work with another person forced me to be a bit more sociable in the morning, and while I can’t claim that it made this last week of work any better than the previous ones had been, it may have allowed me to present myself as a more pleasant individual. Plus it feels kind of nice to do something for someone else.
At what point would I have drawn the line? I don’t mean long-term – I have to drive myself there every weekday for the foreseeable future anyway – but in terms of distance from my home. This gentleman lives 1000 feet away from me. We might as well be next-door-neighbors. It would have been absurd for me to say “no.” But that’s another matter – am I just generally unable to say “no?” Is that the real reason why I agreed to drive him to work? After all, I clearly want to be liked (what other explanation is there for that opening paragraph, am I right?). I don’t think that’s the case though. I say “no” to things all the time; sometimes I even say “no” in improv, which everyone knows you’re not supposed to do. I think I have a tough time saying “no” when someone needs something. And that’s probably not a bad impulse. The world might be a little less awful if we indulged in such compulsions more often.
So did this whole experiment change the way others see me? Probably not, though I’m sure reading this self-indulgent screed will win over many of you. Riding to work with this fellow did sort of change the way I perceive myself, though. Maybe I’m not as mean as I always assumed I was. That kind of self-reflection earns Giving a Co-Worker a Ride four out of five carpool lanes: