human behavior

On shamelessness

Posted in Habits & Manners, Religion & Ethics by humanb on April 14, 2010

Since I’ve been venting about med students…

At the beginning of my rotation in Emergency medicine I met the four students with whom I’d be working. Three of them had been childhood friends and had made sure to have all of their rotations together. The fourth – will call her Lu – had been in the same rotations with them for two years. I only knew one of them before I started the rotation.

The students were all nice people, but none of them were particularly friendly to me. I would smile and greet them when I saw them. I would ask them about themselves. But they were cagey.  Then Lu’s car broke down on the 3rd day of the rotation.

They all started talking to me a bit more. They didn’t smile or ask me how I was doing. They just started talking about Lu’s car troubles and what it would mean for their commute. Apparently, the three childhood friends all rode together for the 45 minute drive to the hospital, because only one has a car. This is convenient for them, as they all live in the same neighborhood in the heart of the city, south of the harbor. Lu also lives in the neighborhood, but has her own car. Sometimes she takes one of them if they are going to the hospital at a different time. I, however, live north of the harbor. My drive takes an hour and I drive via the tunnels under the city, not through it. I don’t remotely pass their neighborhood.

For a week the only conversation I could get out of the students was complaints about the transport situation. I never took the bait. So finally Lu came out with it: She explained that the group usually ‘carpooled’ and asked if I would join the ‘carpool’ too, since her car broke down. Her idea of a carpool was for me to add 30 minutes to my commute in the morning by driving through a city I typically drive under, to pick her up at her house and chauffeur her to the hospital. Then at the end of the day, I would do the same in worse rush hour, adding even more time to my commute. Once I dropped her off in one of the most congested parts of the city, I would be on my own in the traffic home.

Oh, and they wouldn’t know this, but I absolutely hate driving and am pretty bad at it. In fact, I only started driving in Sydney after 5 years here, and at age 33, because the hospital was so far from home. And I have never driven through the city.

It is entirely possible that I’m a selfish jerk, despite how desperately I don’t want to be one.

So I see a number of problems here rooted in our distinctly different ideas about appropriate behavior.

1st: I would never ask even a good friend to chauffeur me to work, unless they lived in my neighborhood. Lu felt no compunction in asking me – a complete stranger – to chauffeur her to work, despite the fact that I live many miles away on the other side of town.

2nd: Before I started driving to the hospital, I used to take public transport. This took 2.5 hours. I did it anyway. You do what you have to. Lu, however, when I told her I used to take public transport, frankly replied: “Well I’m too spoiled for that.”

3rd: If I asked someone to chauffeur me anywhere, I would want to know the degree to which I would be inconveniencing them in terms of time and distance. Regardless of how much or how little I inconvenience them, I would insist on giving them money for gas. Lu, however, made no effort to assess or ameliorate the inconvenience. She made no offer to chip in with gas, made no offer to travel to a convenient pick-up location, and made no effort to acknowledge that it would be at all inconvenient for me.

Lu and the others returned to the subject of her transport problems periodically over the course of two weeks and with every conversation my stress levels increased. I became the bad guy. I hate being the bad guy.

There’s a certain genius in the person who can impose herself upon you, yet manage to successfully tar you the selfish one for refusing her.

In the end, I managed with great difficulty to impart with frankness that I was very opposed to the idea of chauffeuring her, but would yield with great unhappiness if it were necessary. Fortunately (for me anyway), my obvious displeasure was enough to dissuade her from wanting to drive in a car with me. Conversations about car troubles continued here and there until her car was fixed. The relationship, however, is still broken.

There are certain things that should never be asked of friends. You don’t put your friends in a position where they have to decide to act completely against their own interests, to fulfill yours.  It’s not enough to think, Well she can always say ‘no’ if she doesn’t want to. You don’t guilt trip your friends into doing your bidding. You don’t ask for the unreasonable – even if a friend is likely to buckle and do it. This isn’t rocket science.

I could have been generous. Selfless. Kind. I want to be these things. I try to be these things. But you don’t do a selfless thing, if it will reward selfishness.  People with shamelessness will always go far. There’s no need to drive them there.

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