M*’s ‘You make the call’ — being nice to the elderly edition

One day earlier this summer my wife was an hour late.  The reason she was an hour late is because she was leaving a store and started talking to an elderly man who literally would not let her leave.  He started discussing his life in the 1950s, and went off on tangents, and she kept trying to say she had to go, but every time she tried to interrupt him, he would completely ignore her and keep on talking.  And she was too nice to leave, so she was stuck for an hour talking to this guy while her husband grumpily waited for her.

I on the other hand am not somebody who allows his time to be wasted.

I go to the gym twice a week.  My time is really limited, so I get to the gym, put my bag in the locker and do a half-hour weight-lifting routine.  I have it down to a science.  Pull-ups, dips, biceps curls, triceps, push-ups, a whole series of core exercises for the back and stomach, and a few balancing moves.  And then I’m outta there.  And at least half the time there is this guy who is in his seventies (but has the body of somebody in his fifties) who way-lays some innocent punk like me and just talks to him — for hours.  I’ve seen the victims.  They keep on looking at their watches, trying to get a word in edge-wise.  No way.  Jack Lalanne will not let it happen.  They are stuck.

Well, Jack Lalanne tried that on me today.  I was at the gym and in a hurry to get back to the office so I could continue the all-important job of monitoring M* and Facebook (while occasionally working).   Jack tried the “what does your hat say?” routine, but I had seen him use that on many a victim in the past.  He comments on your hat or your shirt and then spends a few hours telling you stories about his dog or friend or something related to whatever is written on your hat or shirt.  So, he grabbed my hat off my head and started telling me something about his dog, and I interrupted and said, “sir, I’ve really got to go, but you have a great day,” and I snatched my hat back, and I was off to the locker room before he could say a word.  Ha-ha, foiled him!

As I left the locker room, I walked by the weight room, and there he was — he had found another victim, who was looking at his watch and trying to get away.  But that guy was not nearly as smooth as I am.  Ha-ha again!

I know what a lot of you are thinking.  You think I am a jerk because I should be nice to this poor guy.  He’s probably lonely, doesn’t have many people to talk to.  What Would Jesus Do?  Would He be like my wife (sit and talk to the guy while she keeps somebody else waiting) or would He be like me (“gotta run and go heal some blind lepers!”).  I think it’s obvious — He would not keep me or the lepers waiting.

But this is your chance — you make the call.  Do you talk to the elderly person who wants to tell you his or her life’s story, or do you get on to More Important Things?

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

12 thoughts on “M*’s ‘You make the call’ — being nice to the elderly edition

  1. More important things??? I must ask, what is more important than serving another person in need? Obviously, if I have very important obligations to attend to which is expected of me on my job and part of my livelihood, I may have to make an abrupt departure like you did. On the other hand, if I am on my way to an important church meeting it would seem to me that serving another human being and making them feel important and wonderful would be more important than the church meeting which, most likely, you are just going to sit around and talk about serving others.

    Talk or do?

  2. I think the choice is more difficult when we make it an all or nothing scenario. Sometimes people try to take more than we are able to give and we need to put a stop to it. But service in whatever form someone needs it is what the gospel of Christ is all about. So instead of saying “Do I listen to him all day or go on to more important things” maybe look at it and decide “I have 15 minutes that I can offer” then be firm when you have given what you are able and need to leave.

  3. If you read “The Gift of Fear” you will have a different take on this. Yes, you should be kind and have good manners. However, once someone has been rude to you, or more specifically, once someone has not listened to the word “no” and ignores it, you need to be able to get out of that situation because it might be a dangerous one.
    For instance, a man offers to help you carry your groceries. You say no. He insists….completely ignoring your stated wishes. You don’t want to be rude so you let him help. This is how many predators work (also how many salespeople or others who are manipulating you) We need to teach our children, our friends, and ourselves to not blindly let people do whatever they want because we don’t want to be rude. This can be especially a common problem for women.
    So, while I feel sorry for the people who want someone to talk to (and I try to talk to many older people), once someone ignores my stated “no” or prevents me from doing what it is I said I need to do, I need to realize that he/she is being rude. I should not worry so much about hurting someone’s feelings that I put myself in the position of repeatedly being treatly rudely, or even being harmed.
    I think it is important to be nice. Just make sure that you practice saying no firmly with nice people so that when you encounter nice people who aren’t really nice you can mean it.

  4. The implication from some commenters seems to be that my wife is nicer and more spiritual than I am. How could this possibly be true?

    But more seriously, one of the reasons I wrote this is that I have huge areas where I need to improve — case in point, talking to people and opening up about the Gospel.

    I think JKS’s point is valid, although I would add in this case these people were to be trusted. But I think there is some truth to the fact that people who don’t take no for an answer need to be treated with some suspicion.

  5. Geoff,
    Sadly, my wife is much nicer than me. I always have Homer Simpson in the back of my mind: “Old people are no good at everything.”

    That said, even with non-old people (including family members whom I love), I’m better at ending conversations and getting off the phone than she is. Maybe it makes me unfeeling and mean, but it certainly gives me more time for . . . whatever it is I do.

  6. OH MAN! I’m just like your wife in this regard, Geoff. I’m the guy the lonely people in whatever ward I’m in like to talk to, presumably because I listen to them. I can be a good listener, but I don’t like to be a doormat. While sometimes I can afford to visit a while, I’ve had to learn to disengage quickly when necessary. I’m still working on it.

  7. If I have somewhere to be, I will usually try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. If, however, I am not in a rush, I have no problem talking to someone for as long as they want.

    I had a very special experience a few months ago where I took the time to talk to someone who needed a friend. I’m glad I followed the promptings of the Spirit in that situation.

  8. This reminds me when one of the national gym chains (forget the name back then, but their location was taken over by Bally’s) waylaid me in one of their offices. I got up to leave saying I’d have to sleep on it, and then he said that the “special” is only good for that day, etc. But then another sales associate blocked the door, and wouldn’t let me leave. It was almost “illegal confinement”. And I get worked up whenever I remember it. Very manipulative.

    Such memories make me very cognizant of the fact I have to be especially respectful and non-manipulative when I approach people in public, and back off when the other person shows any sign of annoyance.

    MadChemist brought out a good point. If the person is desperate for companionship and conversation, invite them to church or to meet the missionaries.

    I’ve had similiar ideas on how to home-teach and visit-teach elderly members or shut-ins. Get them to call each other.

    Tell Sister A, that Sister B is lonely and would like a phone call once a week.
    Tell Sister B that Sister A is lonely and would like to call her once a week.

    I’m afraid I’m more like Geoff than his wife. Unless there’s some kind of emergency, you have set limits. It’s also a matter of civility-versus-rudeness. If someone won’t let you get a word in edge-wise, you _have_ to interrupt.

  9. I attract old people and little kids. Each situation is different. Sometimes the charitable thing to do is to listen and validate, other times you just need to be cordial and walk on. Most situations require you to stop, listen and validate.

    Once at the cosmetic counter, a little old lady was dropping broad hints at the young woman working the counter about the prestige of her late husband, who had a local park named after him. I spoke up and asked her if she was related to such and such person. She just smiled all the way down to her toes. It only took a few minutes to hear about her talk about her husband. Poor lonely thing.

    Other times you get the someone like an older gentleman who came up to me in a parking lot and commented on my crocs, “Are those your I don’t care how the h*ll I look shoes”.

    Me: “yep, pretty much” and kept walking.

  10. If I’m like most people, I try to determine if the person has a legitimate need (one I feel is worthy of my time) or if they simply want to monopolize a conversation and feed an insatiable ego. I’ve studied interaction styles and can see some definite patterns in the way people interact. There’s a fair number of people out there who I will call “Initiators” that like to control and dominate the dialogue. Many of them seek out “Responders” because they are easy victims who will let them drone on and on. I’ll bet the victims in Geoff’s story are all Responders. Initiators have a harder time carrying on a mutually satisfying dialogue because they dislike sharing power. I agree it’s important to be polite, but it’s also good to arm oneself with some effective transition phrases like “I’m sorry, my wife is waiting for me.”

  11. Have one of those things in your pocket that simulates the sound of a ringing phone. When button-holed, reach hand in pocket, wait a few seconds, press the ringing-sounding thing. Then take out the cell phone, look at it, say “Excuse me, I have to take this call”, then open your cell phone and walk off.

    Or, be the reverse initiator. Offer them a free Book of Mormon or pass-along card, or invite them to church.

    Remember, everyone is a potential investigator. And everyone, no matter how nice or how rude, also deserves a chance to hear the gospel.

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