How I Drove My Enemies Nuts
- Volume 26 - Issue 1 - January 2013
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“Be kind to your enemies. It will drive them nuts.”
I read that in The Neurotic’s Handbook and decided it was a workable concept.
I was not a nice guy by the end of podiatry school. There was competition for residency training. In 1974, there was one slot for every four podiatry graduates. The competition was fierce. Most were scheming to get a residency and many had simply given up and planned to get a license and open an office.
I had the opportunity to do a summer externship in a Seattle hospital that had one of the best one-year surgical programs in the country. My competition for that program was going to be tough. The other externs were eager, smart and appeared to be nice guys.
I did not like surgery. It was boring to me if the attending podiatrist was competent. It could also be terrifying if the doctor was new to the operation. I did not like schmoozing the attending doctors who would be choosing two residents out of 200 applicants the next spring. I did not think I had a chance so I did not become nice all of the sudden.
Word got around that I was under consideration for the program since I was the only podiatry graduate from Washington State in 1974. One of my classmates offered me sort of a bribe (pots and pans from his family’s business) if I would withdraw my application. I accepted the bribe but then decided not to withdraw. It was not very nice but neither was he.
I was first runner up and since I had not applied to any other programs, I reconciled myself to start a practice. One of the selected guys found a better deal and declined the program.
The residency director sent a letter to my school, letting me know that I had a slot if I contacted him by the end of the week. The letter was pinned to the student bulletin board, which I never looked at. Somebody took it so I never saw it. A student who was serving an externship called me and asked when I was going to call. It was the last day.
I called the director and accepted the slot. I felt kind of bad about all the pots and pans, but kept them anyway. The briber did get a program elsewhere.
By the end of the residency, I decided that I would better learn how to be a nicer guy, even to my enemies. That little “drive them nuts” saying appealed to me. I found that relationships with patients, other doctors and the people in my small town were easier and more pleasant. I made it through 34 years of practice without a malpractice claim and my fellow physicians honored me with the physician’s excellence award a year after I retired.
I thought about resuming my nastiness in retirement but found that being nice was still a good option. When I buy groceries, I try to be the nicest customer the supermarket had that day.
When I travel, I try to be the nicest guy in the ticket line with the exception of Air France when it cancelled a flight to Rome where I was to board a cruise ship. At the end of my confrontation, I got a boarding pass for another airline. The document had “ssss” stamped on it, which tells the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that I had been a disruptive traveler. I got a pat that was more personal and invasive than my yearly visit with my internist. That happened in Seattle, Amsterdam and Milan. We made it to the ship on time but dang, I was sore. My wife will do all the talking to ticket agents and TSA from now on.
We have booked a cruise on the Adriatic from Venice to Athens. I have been really nice to the travel agent and all of the cruise line people. They just informed me that we were being upgraded from our economy cabin to a suite. They did not say why but I think I know.
I have been upgraded on airline flights for the same reason. It is a whole lot nicer to be lounging in business class on a 13-hour flight to Asia.
Being nice is not that hard. Of course, it has to start at home. You do not always get some tangible benefit every time you are nice but you get a good feeling about yourself.
The most difficult transition when I moved away from Cleveland was to wave to people with all of my fingers while driving.