The Virtue of Silence, Part II

As before, my source material for the virtue of silence may be found here.


Today men are often pressed for time, stressed, and subject to daily annoyances. These frustrations are then frequently taken out on those in the service industry. Often made to feel like peons in their normal lives, these men see their interactions with people in the service industry as an opportunity to finally be treated like a king and boss someone around.

Applying the virtue of silence with customer service

1. Don’t unload your anger on those who are not at fault for your problem.

Uncouth is the man who takes out his frustrations on whoever is in closest proximity whether it is their fault or not. This guy will yell at the waiter if there is a hair in is food. He will yell at the computer support representative because his computer crashed. He will yell at the person at the airline ticket counter because he was late and the plane didn’t wait for him. Save your indignation for the the real cause of your problem, especially if that person is you.

>I’ve got 3+ years of experience working in a customer service environment, most of it in retail, and I have my share (as well as heard my share) of difficult customer stories.  Some ended with the employee in tears, some ended with the customer storming off in anger for not getting the result they desired, and some ended with a “wth just happened” sense in the air.

Using the above example from the Art of Manliness: the waiter just brought the food out, he wasn’t responsible for making it.  The attendant at the ticket counter is not responsible for the passenger missing his plane.  It is not fair to take your anger out on the person behind the counter.  They do the best that they can and yelling at them will not allow you to get your way.

2. Don’t talk on your cell phone while simultaneously talking to someone serving you.

Some people will talk on their cell phone while they place their order and pay for it. These people believe that the person running the register is just an automaton designed to do their bidding, and thus they need only devote ½ of their attention to addressing this robot. They also believe the person they are talking to on the phone doesn’t mind being ignored periodically. They are wrong on both counts.

> I’ve run into this scenario many times both in my previous retail jobs and my current food industry job.  Someone comes up to the counter, talking on their phone and you just stand there trying to ring up their purchase or take their order.  You attempt to get their attention or convey information and sometimes the customer will glare at you, or perhaps just toss their credit card on the counter without acknowledging what you said.  Sometimes this occurs on the opposite side of the spectrum.  The customer will come up on their phone, but fortunately for you, they either end the call or physically set the phone down and place their order or complete their purchase and go their merry way.  I can assure you that while the person attending the register may be smiling and polite, inwardly they are wishing for you to shut the h*** up and get on with the transaction. There is a reason it’s called ‘customer service’.  The person behind the counter – the one you’re ignoring by remaining on your phone – is serving you, the customer.  These people get paid very little money for the amount of B.S. that they have to put up with at times.  I know.  I’ve been there many times myself.

3. Have a little patience

In Italy, people linger over their dinner for hours as several courses are slowly brought out. In America, men blow their top when their blooming onion appetizer comes out 5 minutes too late. And they act like their grandma died if their burger has been topped with the wrong cheese. These men believe that paying $8.00 for a meal entitles them to be king for a day. They are in serious need of some perspective.

> “I know how to shoot.” “Yes, I saw.  Very ‘American’.  Fire enough bullets and hope to hit the target.” (The League of Extraordinary Gentleman)  What is it with the ‘satisfy me now’ mentality?  I know that quote doesn’t go with the ‘satisfy me now’, but it’s a good example of the lack of patience that everyone seems to reek with.  Take a chill pill, deep breath, or perform a Vulcan meditation technique…ok, not really that last one.  But seriously, calm yourself down.  There is no reason for someone to lose their temper because their food is late or the wrong cheese got put on the sandwich.  I can understand asking something to be remade if you were allergic to a certain ingredient that was accidentally included in your meal, but otherwise…

4. Err on the side of understanding

Before you berate someone for what you believe is sub par service, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. Is your waiter slow in bringing out your order? His section probably just got slammed, some kid knocked over his soda on the floor, and one of the cooks called in sick. He may well be doing the best he can. We never fully know what happens behind the scenes of people’s lives. The cranky woman making your coffee was just served with divorce papers. The scatter brained woman checking out your groceries is having trouble concentrating because her child is sick in the hospital. You never know the whole story. So cut these people some slack.

> Need I say more?  This last section says it very well.  Cut the other person some slack.  They are doing the best they can under whatever circumstances are in effect.

“Do not speak unless you can improve the silence.”

* * * * *

There is one more part to the Virtue of Silence, and it’s going to focus on everyone’s favorite discussion area (not!) – the internet.


The Bushido Code

An excerpt from a post at the Art of Manliness:

“Just a few decades after Japan’s warrior class was abolished, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt raved about a newly released book entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan. He bought five dozen copies for family and friends. In the slim volume, which went on to become an international bestseller, author Nitobe Inazo interprets the samurai code of behavior: how chivalrous men should act in their personal and professional lives.

Nitobe Inazo

Though some scholars have criticized Nitobe’s work as romanticized yearning for a non-existent age of chivalry, there’s no question that his work builds on extraordinary thousand-year-old precepts of manhood that originated in chivalrous behavior on the part of some, though certainly not all, samurai. What today’s readers may find most enlightening about Bushido is the emphasis on compassion, benevolence, and the other non-martial qualities of true manliness.”

As I look over the eight virtues listed in the Bushido code, I see many similarities between the Bushido code and the knights code of chivalry.  Many of the virtues are the same, as are the expectations of people who strive to exemplify those virtues.  Here are the virtues of the Bushido code and see for yourself how similar they are to the virtues of the knights code of chivalry:

I. Rectitude or Justice – Bushido refers not only to martial rectitude, but to personal rectitude: Rectitude or Justice, is the strongest virtue of Bushido. A well-known samurai defines it this way: ‘Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.’ Another speaks of it in the following terms: ‘Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand. So without Rectitude neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.’

II. Courage – Bushido distinguishes between bravery and courage: Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness and Rectitude. In his Analects, Confucius says: ‘Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’ In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.’

III. Benevolence or Mercy – A man invested with the power to command and the power to kill was expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy: Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Both Confucius and Mencius often said the highest requirement of a ruler of men is Benevolence.

IV. Politeness – Discerning the difference between obsequiousness and politeness can be difficult for casual visitors to Japan, but for a true man, courtesy is rooted in benevolence: Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist as distinctive Japanese traits. But Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.

V. Honesty and Sincerity – True samurai, according to author Nitobe, disdained money, believing that “men must grudge money, for riches hinder wisdom.” Thus children of high-ranking samurai were raised to believe that talking about money showed poor taste, and that ignorance of the value of different coins showed good breeding: Bushido encouraged thrift, not for economical reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class … the counting machine and abacus were abhorred.

VI. Honor – Though Bushido deals with the profession of soldiering, it is equally concerned with non-martial behavior: The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai … To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as ‘short-tempered.’ As the popular adage put it: ‘True patience means bearing the unbearable.’

VII. Loyalty – Economic reality has dealt a blow to organizational loyalty around the world. Nonetheless, true men remain loyal to those to whom they are indebted: Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era. Personal fidelity exists among all sorts of men: a gang of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But only in the code of chivalrous Honor does Loyalty assume paramount importance.

VIII. Character and Self-Control – Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference. Finally, it is a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior: The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action.

Loyalty, honor, courage, justice…those seem to pop up rather frequently.  While people who live in different areas may have different ways to be an example of those virtues (and others), the core of each virtue is the same.  And that, I think, remains true no matter where in the world you go and no matter who you meet along the way.