SNL writers got this sketch right when they poked fun at the way people routinely dehumanize each other. When we’re in a hurry and on cruise control, it can be easy to forget that the person driving the bus or handing you dry cleaning or taking your order in a restaurant isn’t an automaton. People in service industry professions are often treated like robots, or, worse yet, like they’re invisible.
I grew up in a small-ish Midwestern town where everyone already knew everybody else’s name. When I moved to a major city, I missed knowing my neighbors and the people where I went. So, a decade ago, I started making it a point to know people’s names. I know the names of the checkout clerks, butchers, and the wine and cheese buyers at the grocery store; I know the names of my regular UPS man, mail carrier, and FedEx lady (and even most of their substitutes); I know the name of the woman who schedules appointments at my hair salon; I know the names of bus drivers, cab drivers, and the women who work at the dry cleaner’s. And, for the most part, these people know my name, too.
Although learning people’s names takes a little bit of time (you must strike up a conversation), I’ve found that the act has incredible uncluttering benefits overall. Had I not started talking with my butcher, I’d have never known that I can order a quarter of a cow (instead of a whole cow) from a local grass-roaming, organic farm each year and that the butcher will cut up the meat for me exactly how I ask him to, free of additional charge (well, I do give him a nice tip). Buying a quarter of a cow has saved me incredible amounts of money (it’s insanely discounted compared to buying separate cuts of meat) and time (I don’t have to run to the store). Twice, I’ve called the receptionist at my hair salon and she has found a way to get me on the schedule at the last minute, and I haven’t had to whine or beg or threaten or do anything other than ask nicely. The mail and package delivery folks always wait for me to answer the bell, instead of slapping a sticker on the door and driving away like I know some of them do. I get my package on the first delivery attempt instead of having to go to a central office to pick something up or wait another day. Bus drivers have waited for me as I’ve hurried down the street. Simply stated, my life runs more smoothly because I’ve taken the time to learn someone’s name and taken a sincere interest in what they do.
I’m not suggesting you learn someone’s name for the singular purpose of getting better service. Rather, I’m suggesting that meeting the people — all the people — who are a regular part of your life can be beneficial in many ways. It is certainly more enjoyable to go to the market when you know you can learn something from the people there, instead of thinking about the errand like a mundane chore and the people who work there as idiots (they’re not). And, as someone who has previously worked in a service industry job, the work day went much more quickly when I was able to help someone who saw me as a person and took an interest in what I did. I enjoyed helping those people most of all.
Even if you have ignored someone you encounter regularly in your life, it’s never too late to extend your arm, shake a hand, apologize for never learning his or her name before, and properly introduce yourself. In my experience, you’ll immediately feel more connected to your corner of the world and see a few uncluttered benefits, too.