Be nice to those you meet on the way up.  They’re the same folks you’ll meet on the way down.”  ~Walter Winchell, 1932

Back when I was a young freelance writer, looking to break into the wonderful world of live-action television, I wrote a spec script for a young teen series.  It was an unsolicited submission (one of those things every industry professional advises against), a shot in the dark – but it had been fun to write and at worst, I figured, I could always use it as a writing sample.  Well, about a week after sending it off, I received a call from one of the show’s producer.  He’d read my script and loved it.  Only problem was they had just a couple of slots left to fill for that season.  Following a brief conversation on the script’s strengths and weaknesses, he suggested that, if I didn’t hear back from him soon, I should touch base before the weekend.  He stressed the importance of this: my getting in touch with him BEFORE THE WEEKEND.  Any later and I risked missing the boat. And so, after a couple of days went by and I hadn’t heard from him, and with the weekend fast-approaching, I gave him a call.  He wasn’t in and so I left a message on his answering machine.  A day passed.  Then another.  It was Friday morning and I still hadn’t heard back!  Was it possible he’d inadvertently erased my message?  It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.  I’d done it myself countless times.  To be on the safe side, I picked up the phone and tried him again.  And, again, I went straight to voice mail.  I left another message and then went about my day, assuming he would no doubt call me back.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  I started to stew.  Here was my big break, slipping through my fingers, and all because I wasn’t able to honor a simple request to get in touch with him BEFORE THE WEEKEND.  Well, with the minute hand ticking past six p.m., I decided to try one last time, leave a final message.  If nothing else, at least he would know I’d made every attempt to honor that request.  So I called.  He picked up on the third ring – and then proceeded to berate me for pestering him. Needless to say, that opportunity didn’t pan out.

Fast-forward to several years later.  I’d established myself as a writer, a story editor, and a director of development for one of North America’s premiere animation studios.  Part of my duties of the latter position required me to take show pitches from various producers and freelancers.  One day, I walked into the board room and was introduced to the individual I’d be taking a pitch from that day.  Turned out he’d developed a popular teen show but, since it had gone off the air, hadn’t done much of anything.  As I took my seat at the conference room table and this disheveled, desperate-looking guy started pitching his series idea, I started flipping through his resume and suddenly realized who he was: ole “get in touch with me BEFORE THE WEEKEND”.  He obviously hadn’t made the connection.  But I did.

Oh, I did.

“I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms [of a sick culture]: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course–but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking away at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down. I guess that’s all for now. Oh, conscription and slavery and arbitrary compulsion of all sorts and imprisonment without bail and without speedy trial–but those things are obvious; all the histories list them.”
“Friday, I think you have missed the most alarming symptom of all.”
“I have? Are you going to tell me? Or am I going to have to grope around in the dark for it?”
“Mmm. This once I shall tell you. But go back and search for it. Examine it. Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named… but a dying culture invariable exhibits personal rudness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”
“Pfui. I should have forced you to dig it out yourself; then you would know it. This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength.” – Robert A. Heinlein, Friday

It’s been my experience working in this industry that you CAN succeed without being a complete and utter asshole.  Sure, you hear stories about those who have back-stabbed and blind-sided their way to the top, but every so often karma rears her beautiful head and these same individuals suddenly find themselves at the not-so-tender mercies of those they’ve wronged, ridiculed, or forced to go out and pick up their dry-cleaning or drain their dog’s anal glands.  I personally know of two former executives who had no compunction about bullying and belittling those beneath them back when they were at the top of the heap, only to have fortune turn for them in a nasty way.  Their eventual falls from glory were all the more spectacular for the number of former associates who went out of their way to ensure they not only went down hard but stayed down for the count.  Neither has really worked since.

It’s not that hard to avoid their fate.  It doesn’t take any extra effort to be nice to someone whoever they may be, from the established director to the humble driver. They are, in the end, people just trying to make a living.  It doesn’t kill you to show them respect.  That production assistant you diss today could some day hold your career in their hand. Remember, Michael Ovitz once worked the mail room at William Morris and before she struck it big, Madonna Louise Ciccone served up tasty treats at Dunkin Doughnuts.  Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger started off as a bricklayer while Matthew McConaughey once shoveled chicken manure to make ends meet.  Colin Powell worked at a baby furniture store, Stephen King was a high school janitor, Ralph Lauren sold gloves, and Larry King drove a truck for UPS.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people.  And some bad ones as well.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to tell you about the former (like, say, Chris Vance, The Transporter’s Frank Martin – a great actor, hard worker, and one hell of a genuinely good-hearted guy who is simply adored by those he works with).  And nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see the latter receive their occasional karmic comeuppance.

If I ever pass you along in life again and you were laying there, dying of thirst, I would not give you a drink of water. I would let the vultures take you and do whatever the want with you with no ill regrets. I plead to the jury tonight to think a little bit about the island that we have been on. This island is pretty much full of only two things – snakes and rats. And in the end of Mother Nature, we have Richard the snake, who knowingly went after prey and Kelly who turned into the rat that ran around like the rats do on this island, trying to run from the snake. I feel we owe it to the island’s spirits that we have learned to come to know to let it be in the end the way Mother Nature intended it to be – for the snake to eat the rat.” – Susan Hawk, Survivor: Borneo

42 thoughts on “August 29, 2011: “Never take a person’s dignity: it is worth everything to them, and nothing to you.” ~ Frank Barron

  1. Quote Joseph Mallozzi:
    “but every so often karma rears her beautiful head and these same individuals suddenly find themselves at the not-so-tender mercies of those they’ve wronged, ridiculed, or forced to go out and pick up their dry-cleaning or drain their dog’s anal glands.”

    In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, is said to be a Klingon proverb and was quoted by Khan Noonian Singh. 🙂

  2. Hear hear.

    I remember once I was helping my karate instructor organize an event involving a number of senior martial artists from various systems. The martial arts community has a number of outstanding leaders, but also more than its share of egos. Anyway, one of my responsibilities for this event was helping to coordinate the activities of these big name folks on the day. I remember a few of them were considerably less than courteous to little ol’ nobody me (and my little ol’ nobody fellow volunteers), but when they spoke to my instructor, they were very polite. And unfortunately, what I brought back from this experience is that these men will treat someone well only if they think that person was important and powerful enough to give them something in return. On the other hand, there was one martial arts leader I met through this event who (aside from being a highly skilled practitioner) treated everyone he met, regardless of their rank, with courtesy, and taking the time to greet and thank me and the other event volunteers. He left this event having earned our respect.

    This may sound naive, but people tend to respond positively to be treated nicely. Sure, sometimes you can get results by threats and bullying and scaring people, but it’s been my experience that you’ll get far better results from treating people with courtesy. In a work environment, this means: Yell at people, and they might do the minimum required by their job. Earn their respect, and they’ll go above and beyond the call of duty to assist you.

    Plus there’s that whole karma thing. 😉

    – KB

  3. @archersangel:
    Does that mean we’re “trekkies”? 🙁

    I’d rather be known as a “Gatie”. 🙂

    @ John:
    Yep, LoL. 🙂

  4. Perhaps last week is working it’s way out?

    Everyone should know the name of the custodian who cleans their office (or in my case, classroom) and treat them with the same respect that they treat their boss. Bravo on your post this evening! I’ve rarely heard it put so neatly.

  5. Wow. That is an amazing story.

    If you’re interested, look up the story of how Pfizer treated Isaac Asimov when he applied for a job as a young man, and how they got their comeuppance years later when they wanted him, a famous writer, to come speak. It will seem familiar to you.

  6. I’ve always said that obnoxious people are their own worst enemy. I also firmly believe that whatever you put out there in the Universe always comes back to you at some point. I had an experience this weekend where someone did me a HUGE (unsolicited) favour, telling me that I was always reliable and they know I would do the same. It was greatly appreciated and was once again an example of how you live your life winds up coming back to you.

    Anyway, great post, Joe.

  7. Walter Winchell was a wise man and so are you, Joe. I often give the same advice to young techs and physicians I meet. Be nice to people – like your business, medicine is a small world. Good karma is nothing to be sneezed at and bad karma is a bitch.

    That Heinlein quote is really excellent. Especially “This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength.” Sad, but oh so true.

    I hope things are getting better in your world. Thanks for the excellent blog tonight!

    @pbmom: Get well soon.

  8. Sparky Anderson (the baseball manager and famous nice guy) frequently quoted his father as saying, ”Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.” Words he lived by.

  9. Hear, hear! Very philosophical. 🙂

    Okay, you know we’re dyin’ to know… where is the story you didn’t tell us tonight? What situation are you gloating over? Was this the same person who made you mightily peeved a couple weeks ago?

  10. But isnt James Cameron notorious for his temperaments? I’ve meet some sick individuals who were complete a-holes because of their position, the types that would make even a pacifist want to punch them in the face, yet I can see where they’re coming from. They just got too much on their hands and I’m just a no body to them 🙁 Actually I think can be an a-hole too! I will work so hard now to get to the same respected place as them and elevate my status just so I can treat people like trash all day!! yay!

    seriously though, someone thought it would be just grand to sadistically out of no where explain me to me how much an idiot he thought I was in everyway just because I was 3 minutes late to this one meeting. He even said I was 3 minutes late as if that was blasphemy. long story short, i went to amazon gave him a terrible review. And thats just one example, most of them dont have anything on amazon that i can review.

  11. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

    Proverbs 19:11

  12. Interesting monolog. I guess a recent event has pulled this from the vast depths of your seared memory. I did not watch the Borneo Surviver addition nor any for that matter. They did have a series on Koh Doradao. My co workers asked me if I was going to watch it, but said know since I had already been there. I lived in the south for 3years and frequently revisit Thailand.
    I just finished watching Desperate Measures, Season 5, and loved liked the camera work. There is alway room for redemption if willing to take the risk. Guess that was not the case in your story above.

  13. Hey Joe,
    When I was touring a show across Canada, I had an potential presenter tell me to “bug her” for a letter of intent before a looming granting deadline. The deadline approached but she wasn’t returning my calls. As the deadline got closer, my calls got more frequent. Once a day in the final few days. Eventually she answered the phone and told me never to call her again because of my persistence. Too bad. The show did amazingly well all across the country for all of our presenters. But we never did get to go my hometown, where she still runs the local regional theatre. Your story reminded me of this one.
    thanks for that.

  14. ” Their eventual falls from glory were all the more spectacular for the number of former associates who went out of their way to ensure they not only went down hard but stayed down for the count.”

    I think your industry is unique in this, Joe. Recently there was a study which showed that nice guys finish last, at least salary-wise. And it does seem that those who walk on other people to get to the top – especially the corporate and political types – are far more common than those who show even the least bit of kindness. However, the entertainment business seems to buck this trend. For instance, blackballing seems far more common and you often hear of the difficult actor who can’t get a decent role despite their good looks or talent, while others – despite their eccentricities – keep getting work because they’re such nice guys (e.g. Depp). Sure, ‘Hollywood’ can be forgiving and accept a former outcast back into the fold, and there are certainly many good people who – for whatever reason – just never make it to the top, but as a rule it seems you’re career is over if you step on the wrong toes in the entertainment industry.

    “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named… but a dying culture invariable exhibits personal rudness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

    Just a quick comment on this. For some reason people today think good manners are bad, and that being nice is a sign of weakness. Some say good manners just hide what a person really is underneath, but that’s probably because they can’t comprehend that some people in this world are truly genuine and nice. Shame we’re such a cynical bunch that we’re suspicious of a friendly smile, or feel disrespected if someone dares hold the door for us. A dying society, for sure.

    Totally unrelated: Joe, do you watch Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart?

    Also, can someone get female tennis players to tone it down on the court, please. They sound totally ridiculous.


  15. My grandmother always told me to never burn your bridges cause you never know when you might need to go back across it. I was working at a very small office for over 2 years when they hired a new bookkeeper. She was so incapable of doing her job, and blamed me for her problems. She wanted me to do her job and mine and I refused. Eventually the problems between us became a workplace problem and I was fired. I wanted to make a big scene, scream at the boss who had made this bad decision and sue for wrongful termination. Instead I thanked him for the opprotunity to work there, accepted the 2 months severance pay, and went out and got an even better job. Fast forward 2 years and I had moved to a new state and applying for a job at a large national company. I was sent to interview with the head of HR at the home office who would have to sign off on my selection as a local office manager. I came face to face with my old boss who had moved and changed jobs to head this HR department. He acknowledged my strengths, and the personal conflicts between me and the other girl. He said that it was such a small office he felt it was best I leave. Then he approved my job application and I got the new job.

  16. So who told you off Joe ? 😛

    I also believe in Karma. It may take awhile but eventually it comes around. Where I used to work the guy who ran my crew was the managers son. He used to snort coke, smoke up, and drink on weekend night shifts. He used to send me to one of the other buildings because I never participated or he felt like I was going to rat him out. He got away with things that anyone else would get fired for.

    Being on salary I’d just go straight home. One day they got busy and called for me to come back and the guys at the other building told them I wasn’t even there and had never gone. So the next day he starts bitching me out saying he was going to get me fired. I replied go ahead and tell on me with a smile. Suffice to day he did nothing.

    Later on I asked to get switched to another crew. About a year later apparently one night shift the president of the company happened to be driving by while coming back from some event and decided to stop by and bring coffee’s. When he came in there was nobody around, the line wasn’t running, nobody was in the office. He walked around looking for people and walked out to the line.

    There he saw the three guys, one was snorting a line, one was standing with joint and beer in his hand and another was asleep. Not only were the three not there the next week, but neither was the manager father and I was placed in charge of a crew 😛

  17. Wow. Very intriguing story, though you’re driving me crazy by not finishing off the tale. My suspicion is that as you continued to politely talk with the man, all sorts of little fantasies ran through your mind. And then you put aside any petty vengences to do your job as objectively as humanly possible. Now sure how many people would be able to resist the temptation for some easy payback for a long-ago slight, but I’d like to think you and most of the readers are the type to mount that resistance.
    Like the quotes, and thanks to Mr. Burnstein for the suggestion on the Asimov tale. One of my biggest regrets was never getting to meet, or at least see, the Good Doctor before he passed on. I will love seeing how he handled the situation.

  18. Sometimes it’s the biggest people that seem to be so small. Nothing says cowardice quite like bullying someone who has no possible way to stand up for themselves. Gotta love karma for stepping in every once in a while and evening things out again, but a shame it should get that far.

    Manners don’t cost anything, except in their lack.

  19. The worst boss I ever had came with glowing reviews and I thought the world was insane. During that ordeal, I heard a talk from a guy who used to work for him. He said that if we ever had a really bad boss, the best thing to do is to get him promoted and out of your hair. So, he had passed his bad boss over to me, and, with the guy’s glowing reviews, I looked like the insane one when someone would say how great they heard he was and I just dead-panned.

  20. As far as I know, the bad boss never got his comeuppance. He even had a wife and kids and I couldn’t figure out how he could maintain the facade at home consistently enough to keep a wife.

  21. Joe, I hope some day you can tell us what inspired this blog. Inquiring minds need to know!

    @das: Interesting study and probably true in a lot of areas, especially the corporate world. Kindness may not get you better pay and promotions, but it does earn you a lot of good-will. And THAT is worth a lot. At least, to me it is.

    And on the subject of good manners: yeah, when the heck did they become a sign of weakness? Trying to reinforce decent, polite behavior in my children is a never-ending battle because it is counter to what they experience every day. It makes me sad and is wearing me down.

  22. By coincidence I had the theme from Last of the Mohican’s playing while I read the Susan Hawke speech; the effect was epic.

    I have the good fortune to belonging to a wonderful writing group, many of whom are hugely succesful and some like me who are still plugging away, but they are all equally kind, funny and sweet. The majority of the people I’ve met in the industry have been refreshingly kind but the industry seems to attract some real doozies.

    I don’t wish the jerks of the world ill; I send my good karma to my family and friends, and I purge a-holes from my memory. The worse diss is what Roarke tells Toohey in The Fountain Head; that he never thinks about him. The jerks of the world want recognition, nothing hurts them more than being forgotten.

  23. Thornyrose, if this link works, it has the Asimov and Pfizer story in it:

    Basically, his job interviewer kept him waiting forever, and dismissed his Ph.D. thesis as a pamphlet. When the executives wanted him to speak, he insisted on a higher fee and told them about his experience with them when he applied for a job years ago. To their credit, the executives were mortified.

  24. @ Sparrowhawk – Sadly, good manners are no longer taught in the old ‘institutions’ that promoted good manners – school, church, and home. No one goes to church anymore, and schools can’t teach manners or etiquette because (as I have heard) it may tread on the toes of the parents and how they choose to raise their kids. So where are kids learning how to interact with other people if not in those places? From TV, music, and film…and all of those promote a very self-centered, aggressive attitude. Hey, just look at us and our love for the bad boys. 😉 However, we grew up in an era where manners and human kindness were still being taught, where we were still exposed to reruns of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, so we’ve at least seen how to be nice. But kids today? Their role models are egotistical sports stars, gang-promoting rappers, out of control substance abusing starlets, obnoxious ‘adult’ cartoon characters, and movie characters who live by the motto of shoot first, ask questions later. Badassitude used to be the exception and that made it cool, but today it’s the rule and that just makes it overbearing and rude.

    A side note on this. I always hold the door for people, and one place where I do this a lot (due to the amount of foot traffic) is at the post office. Old men and old ladies thank me. Young men and young ladies thank me. Kids thank me. Teens thank me. You know who consistently does NOT thank me? Middle-aged women, especially those 50-60ish, and nicely dressed. They don’t even smile. I don’t know why they’re like that, but as I approach that age, I am bound and determined not to be like them.


  25. There IS hope in this world, folks. I have recently been very impressed with the courtesy and caring of two support employees at a medical clinic. I’m sending compliment letters this week, perhaps today.

    Thnaks for the reminder, Joe!

  26. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a few more details, here. C’mon, you know you wanna spill!

    I want to believe in karma, but I’m afraid it doesn’t always have its way in our lifetimes. Funny, just yesterday I was wishing for someone to come back as a cockroach in her next life.

  27. A society should be judged by how it treats it’s most helpless members. And yet, Michael Vick just got 100 million dollars. As my dear mother would say, “it’s enough to gag a maggot on a gut wagon!” Mom knew how to choose her words

  28. Not related to Joe’s blog…

    I was just watching a rerun of Xmen 2 and the part where Magneto gets free I noticed Mike Dopud in this bit part as a guard who runs up to look through the window to see Magneto busting out.

    Wonder how much money they get for these 5 second parts ? lol

  29. @Michael A. Burstein
    Many years ago I was at a convention (Creation, 1990) in NYC where Asimov was. He actually sat IN THE AUDIENCE and was there early. We went up, got books autographed. He was gracious and kind and seemed unaware we felt we were in the company of royalty. I still have the book encased in protective folder, pictures. But what I hold strongest is how truly human he responded.

    Sadly I can’t remember if that was the same year the Klingons were the security and hosts. I can remember them escorting DeForest Kelly to the podium but not Asimov, so maybe it was a different year.

    LOL at Joe. I think NOT giving him a job, or telling him to call YOU by Friday and ignoring his calls would have been fine. Who needs an asswipe working with you?

  30. Naomi Wolf is the one who does presentations on closing societies and she does quite a good job at it.

    My own observation is that the breakdown of politeness is what happens as people are forced to live with slaps to their dignity and the stark realization that they are powerless to do anything about it. Look at the way women were treated in the streets of Egypt as a matter of course, by their own fellow citizens. That was a society where indignities were a normal part of everyday life for the ones who abused the women as well.

    L. Neil Smith, in the Probability Broach, showed a society that was all about the empowered individual. It’s not coincidence that the protagonist encountered acts of kindness as his introduction to that society.

  31. Trying to stay up for the new entry, but can’t.

    I started cleaning up my yard this morning,and didn’t stop until 7:30. Hubby was at work, and I heard that the township was picking up branches starting on Thursday. I figured I better get everything to the curb. Of course, having a touch of OCD that meant:

    1. Taking a bow saw to the two large downed branches, cutting them to the township’s requirement (7 foot long), and dragging them to the curb.

    2. Picking up all the small branches that were scattered all around the yard.

    3. Raking up all the debris in the yard: small twigs, leaves, sweet gum balls, locust pods, etc.

    4. At this point the OCD kicked in and I decided to give my Japanese garden a little manicure, raking up leaves, pulling out some weeds, and sprucing the whole thing up a little.

    5. OCD kicked in even more, and so I decided to tackle this dead corner on the other side of the house, pulling out weeds, and golden rod, and trimming back a fox grape vine that grows along the fence and vinca vine that grows EVERYwhere.

    6. OCD really kicked in now, and I decided to also mow the grass.

    Fortunately Mr. Das came home and helped right at the end when I was about to collapse. I had all the branches to the curb, and the front yard completely raked and mowed…all that needed done was throwing a few piles of debris into the compost pile, and mowing. Hubby tackled the piles and I mowed, and now the yard looks perfect! However, I think I’m going to be in traction tomorrow – I am SOOOO stiff and achy. I just slathered on the Capzasin and now I feel like I just rolled in a hot pepper patch. 😛

    Nite, Joe.


  32. Ya’ know, guy might have been a pleasure to have for a subordinate, as long as you didn’t put him in charge of anybody. That’s been my observation that the weasels are very, very polite to their superiors. Worst.boss.I.ever.had would invite the big wigs on ski trips.

  33. Joe, you are one of the good people in the biz. And the friendliest producer/writer to your fans. Keep your head up. You and Paul have talents.

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