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Secret #17: Respect Everyone

Larry used to entertain his children, especially me, by telling us stories of "Backwards Land" -- where grown-ups have to take naps, children stay up late and you get in trouble for eating your vegetables. I used to love to talk with him about all the crazy and wonderful things that happened in Backwards land.

But for Larry, it isn't just a diversion for children. Every day, he turns the world of status and privilege on its head, doing the opposite of what people expect him to do. Though he has achieved great standing in the community and hobnobs with the local gentry, he makes a point of not observing his proper place on the social ladder.

Here are the four main rules of interpersonal relations, according to Larry:

1. Respect everyone.
2. Be friendly whenever possible.
3. Be irreverent with the affluent and powerful.
4. Be solicitous of those who are normally ignored.

Larry often goes to fancy affairs and ends up in conversations with the waiters. Or he works out at an exclusive club and starts drawing out the janitorial staff on their personal lives. At lunch, he will meet important people and proceed to focus on their spouses or children.
Larry is classless when it comes to relating to other people.

Perhaps it's because he had humble beginnings. Perhaps he simply loves to talk with people and ignores the difference in status. But in any case, he cultivates relationships with people who have neither wealth, nor power – asking about their families, their work, their studies, their dreams, their sporting preferences and sometimes even doing something special for them.

One time, Larry got to know a porter at one of the big hotels in town, one of the nicest in the whole region. When Larry found out the porter had a toothache, Larry arranged with his own dentist to give him care.

Another time, Larry stepped in to help a waiter at the Biltmore Hotel. We'll call him Diego. I'll let Larry tell the story:

Diego was a tall good-looking man from the center of Mexico. He'd drive back every year in his Trans Am and be a hero in his remote little hometown. He smiled all the time – which was more noticeable because he had a gold tooth in the front. He was the sweetest man, and he was very much in love.

Then one day I noticed he had become unusually reserved. A few days later I saw him again, and he was really glum. When I asked him why, he told me an act of love had backfired on him. He had taken his significant other's clothes to the laundromat to wash them, but had ended up nearly destroying them.

I listened sympathetically. Then I asked Diego how much he thought it would cost to replace the clothes. He said about a hundred and fifty bucks. Now, there are smooth ways of helping someone, and there's the direct way, which sometimes shames them. I didn't know how to be smooth in this particular instance. So I said, "Diego, Iím going to do something that will offend you. And if you say anything, I'm going to call up your boss and tell him how terrible you are."

"Don't do that," he said.

"What I'm going to do is hand you a hundred-dollar bill," I explained. "I want you to know I'm getting $500 dollars worth of pleasure out of it. I want to help you get back in the good graces of your girl, because I don't know anyone who loves with the purity that you do."

He's hugged me 4,812 times since then to thank me. And I think that's just the interest.

He bought his sweetheart new clothes, and the next time I saw him he was smiling again.