Elizabeth Willis Barrett……………..May 2015
When I was in High School I played the violin in the school orchestra. I don’t think I was ever first chair but perhaps I had that honor for a week or two. Back then not many were taking private violin lessons so the competition wasn’t so great. Our foreign exchange student Rafael from Italy played the violin, too.
One day Jack Benny came to town. For those of you much younger and unknowledgeable about historic stars, Jack Benny was a comedienne and entertainer. He died in 1974 so you might have missed him. In some of his acts, he played the violin, albeit badly, for comedic effect. For some reason Rafael and I were asked to have our picture taken with him because we, too, played the violin. Perhaps because we didn’t play so well, either. I don’t know.
I wish I were a rememberer of details so I could tell a more accurate and spellbinding story. But I don’t remember where we were for the picture. I’m sure Jack Benny didn’t come to Westwood High School for this marvelous opportunity. Unfortunately I don’t remember much about this significant event in my life except that I was having a bad hair day—which is always a thing to remember—and that this picture made it into the Mesa Tribune, the local newspaper. If I were in total control of my faculties and scrapbooks, I would scan the picture for you.
But most of all—and this is what my point is—I remember how Jack Benny made me feel. He didn’t smile. He cared nothing for Raphael or me. He wasn’t interested in us. We were the little people and he was the star and he was putting up with this photo shoot because for some reason he had to. For all the times he had made people laugh and for all of his fame and most likely great wealth—although he always joked about pinching pennies—he didn’t know how to treat the people that didn’t matter to him.
Just last week I had a similar experience. I was very lucky to be able to attend an event where Deepak Chopra was the keynote speaker. For those of you who haven’t heard of Deepak Chopra, he is a prolific writer, speaker and New Age guru. We were also in the pre-luncheon group that met for a question and answer session with him. His answers were wise and insightful as he stood before us in his loose jeans, red tennis shoes and Indian shirt which may or may not be called a kurta. Since we were at a ribbon cutting for a wonderful new drug rehab facility, some of the questions were asked by concerned parents of newly reformed drug addicts. Dr. Chopra knew so much and talked about the importance of ………..of…………… I don’t remember what he said! And maybe this is why:
That night was a final gathering with wonderful food and company. I saw Dr. Chopra sitting at a table surrounded by adoring fans. When some of them left his side and it looked like he might be uncomfortably alone for a moment, I hesitantly approached him to ask my question.
“Dr. Chopra, do one of your books address the problems of addiction?”
He looked at me like I was intruding on his transcendental meditation. Without a smile, a greeting, or any gesture of welcome, he simply answered in a very dead pan voice:
There was nothing for me to do but say a meek “thank you” and go stand in the non-alcoholic cocktail line.
Maybe I was asking too much. Maybe I had looked forward to meeting him for too long and had imagined a much warmer encounter. Maybe I am just way too sensitive. But the guy has written approximately eighty-two books with titles that include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription. Don’t you think that in all of that research and all of that writing he would have picked up some pointers on how to make others feel accepted and welcomed? Has he not learned how to treat the little people who have bought his books and attended his seminars and brought him to his great success?
Maybe I caught both Jack and Deepak in the “off” position. No one can be “on” all the time. But even the big guys should know that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
If I’m ever in a “star” position—and it’s looking a little late for that—I hope I’ll remember how I want to make people—all people—feel. And truly, at one time or another, we are each a “star” to someone.
Carl W. Buehner has been credited with saying, “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
He was right—you never forget.