Friday, September 24, 2010

The World Could Use Another Great Janitor


There was a radio psychiatrist back in about 1990, who did a daily show on KABC 790AM in Los Angeles.  I don’t recall if his radio show was syndicated around the country or not, but his name was Dr. David Viscott, and he was pretty liberal in his views on politics and public services. 

His talk show mostly consisted of taking calls and trying to come up with solutions in the average ninety-second allotted time that each caller got.  He usually steered callers towards realizing that they were empowered to at least some degree in whatever situation they found themselves in.  The “patients” simply needed to start taking responsibility for what they had the power to control in their lives and on some level, even realize that they had contributed, at least to some degree, to their current life.

He was generally warm and caring to callers, and yet often sounded harsh because he was not willing to let people remain mired in helplessness.  He wanted them to start taking control right there on the radio by admitting what they hadn’t been doing in their lives and what they could start doing immediately to change their situation.  I thought he was only as effective as the "patient's" ability accept responsibility. 

I liked him and I even met him once when he did a show from the university that I was attending (U.S.C.), and he ended up sitting next to me with his arm around my shoulder and a microphone in my face answering some question I had asked on the air.  He talked to me in a kind, knowing, fatherly way, like we had been friends for years.  I must confess, I have generally not liked psychology talk shows throughout my life.  But indeed, I admired him.

Whatever you might think of these types of shows or their effectiveness, he used to say something that I always took to heart.  When people called in describing their profession or their aspirations in a way that showed some embarrassment or admission that their work might not be the most critical of societal roles, Dr. Viscott used to help them re-frame how they saw the work that they were doing.

For instance, if someone called in, and they said that they were helping support a family through their nighttime janitorial job, David would say something like, “Look, put your heart and soul into your cleaning work.  The world needs another great janitor.  We don’t need an unmotivated janitor, or a mediocre janitor.  We need a great one.” 

Or if someone called in saying they had been in the same job for the past ten years, and that they wished they could go to school to learn to be an accountant, David would ask them what they needed to do, the very first steps they needed to take, to be able to being to make this happen.  Because, “the world could use a great accountant.”

Dr. Viscott died in 1996, but this sentiment has always resonated with me because so many people go through their jobs, either knowing only partially the full spectrum of information needed for the job, or with an uncaring and bored attitude.  We’ve all experienced the customer service representative who just wants to be rid of us and is watching the clock.  Dr. Viscott’s idea that one should strive to become the best at whatever one is doing, no matter the level or status, I think is a valuable one and should not be forgotten.

This leads me to the issue of people bettering themselves.  There are so many on-line tutorials, schools, night classes and extension courses that are out there for each one of us to learn more about the world and to grow our knowledge and skills, and yet so many don’t take advantage of these things.  A few years ago, I took a digital photography course, and also several PhotoShop courses for like $20.00 at my local adult school.  It cost almost nothing, and when I finished, presto!  I had a much wider arena of knowledge in these areas than just a few weeks before.

Maybe mine is bordering on a Utopian view, but I think that United States, which was once a manufacturing nation, and is now a consumer one, would benefit greatly if everyone contributed their best efforts for the things they do every day.  Our lives are hard; we have jobs, relationships, kids and obligations, and most people would say that they just do their best. 

But I disagree.  Most of what I see is mediocre, and I include myself in this.  How often does one really apply one’s blood, sweat and tears into something; creating a new or excellent “thing,” whatever that may be?  The answer is, not often enough.  We should all be applying ourselves to the fullest that we can to all of our responsibilities. 

I think this is what our nation needs at this time.  Creators, inventors, writers; people who make things, and an attitude of trying to use that other 90% of our brains.  We all have something to give, create, or something to say; even jobless people.  Some of that spare time can be used doing or making something productive, even if only for their own personal use or pleasure, such as a garden or a painting.  Because it's the habit of doing, making, and going as far as one can that I think we have fallen out of, and that in some big sense, has had an effect on our both our personal fulfillment and our nation's well-being.

And I think everybody should try, if even just a little bit each day.  When people are at work, say doing the midnight shift for the Port Authority, or gathering data for a city study, or restocking inventory at a department store, they should do those things the best they can and shoot for gaining the maximum knowledge about that job.  Because if we, as a nation, were 85% productive, 90% productive, 95% productive, we would make a very rich place in which to live in so many ways, and we would be unstoppable.