Give Me Nashville, Not New York

I enjoy visiting New York where I inevitably encounter many stimulating minds and meet many charming people.  For a large part, though, New Yorkers are rude and customers in New York are subjected to surliness.  This is not true for all cities.  People in places like Nashville smile and show a desire to please. 

Great customer service tends to be found in communities with healthy marriage statistics.  This is no coincidence.  One reason is that successful spouses are better equipped to provide exemplary customer service at work; they do it all the time at home.  Furthermore, young people raised by parents in a happy marriage have learned how uplifting serving others can be.  Such youngsters are more likely to serve customers with smiling enthusiasm.

Most of us have experienced truly horrid customer service.  You might have been ignored by the two sales girls on the floor who are too busy giggling with one another to attend to you.  It might be an arrogant public servant trying to make you feel insignificant or who sees no connection between his actions and his paycheck. 

Vile customer service extracts a cost in both economic and human terms.  Courteous customer service lubricates the wheels of commerce and fights the friction that is found in human interaction.  If engaging a plumber to repair my faucet was a pleasant experience, I am more likely to hire him again rather than try to fix it myself.  That way I can spend that time on what I do best instead of struggling with recalcitrant pipes. 

In human terms, whether one returns home at the end of a day beaten or elated depends to a great extent on whether one feels uplifted by respectful human interaction.  Winning the deal, but from an overbearing, pompous bully (male or female) leaves the sales professional feeling oppressed. 

Imagine what your life would be like if every person with whom you came into contact made you feel valued.  Imagine what you could do for others if you sought ways to make everyone with whom you interact, feel appreciated.  Instead of complaining about how we are served by others, we could try focusing on how well we do the serving ourselves.  The customer can also find ways to serve the vendor—a kind word of gratitude does just that. 

The key to both marriage and customer service is one and the same.  Taking a spouse for granted and expecting only to be served is surely a recipe for marital disaster.  Service should go both ways and expressing deeply sincere appreciation is one profound form of service.  Those who see serving as degrading and subservient will be less successful with both spouses and customers. 

Jews have always been disproportionately successful in business partially because they understood the importance of customer service.  Early in our history in America, we Jews became small merchants.  From the barrows of the Lower East Side of New York to the main streets of nearly every small town across America, people felt comfortable purchasing from the Jewish storekeeper.  One of my Southern Baptist friends, a pioneering medical industries investor, recalls growing up in the South, in the town of Natchez, MS.  His anecdotes highlight the warm relationships between local Jewish merchants and their Christian customers.  Where did Jews learn customer service?

Judaism calls the process of praying to God—a prayer service.  Christianity has of course adopted this nomenclature too; we all serve God and we attend services.  Serving God helped Jews understand the inherent Godliness of serving His children, other people.  Serving God and serving customers are closely related.

People who are obsessed with celebrities would do almost any favor imaginable for their preferred idol.  They would even change diapers for Angelina’s tot or baby-sit Madonna’s children.  Serving someone’s children is a way of getting close to that someone.

Praying is not just about asking God for various favors.  It is expressing profound appreciation to Him; serving Him.  Serving is a God-given process of expressing the deepest yearnings of our souls.  After all, no animal consciously serves another.  Serving is a uniquely human gift and serving God makes us feel closer to Him.  Serving other people, His children, does the same.

Furthermore, service to others is an element of life’s essence.  Indeed doing things for another person is surely part of creating life.  For spiritually attuned humans, the act of marital intimacy with all its life creating potential, remains a union in which each individual is preoccupied with enhancing the joy of the other.  God’s marital message for future parents is that there is no pleasure that exceeds providing for another.  What a perfect preparation for the arrival of new life that will be the beneficiary of its parents’ desire to provide for its every need.  This is why the Hebrew word for love—ahav, when broken down to its component parts, means—I give

These ancient ideas helped dispel the notion that there was something shameful or degrading about serving someone else.  Some cities still cherish these eternal values while others have rejected them.  It cannot be a coincidence that New York, a triumph of secular liberalism with a high proportion of its inhabitants single, also offers such dreadful customer service.  Learning that serving others is one of life’s ultimate thrills could be the key to repairing both customer service and marriage.


12 thoughts on “Give Me Nashville, Not New York”

  1. Thank you Rabbi for the additional teaching, and the reminder to give those lessons a listen to again. I purchased the Perils of Profanity and the first time 2 years ago, and I was brought to my knees in tears, as to me this was a profound message. I would love to say I have the heart of a servant, but I mostly do not. But I’m working towards that each day and I’m thankful that God’s mercy wakes me up each day and I can try again. I can’t say thank you enough. Many Blessings to you and yours 🙂

  2. This is a wonderful post! I think this sentence you wrote is 100% true. “Furthermore, young people raised by parents in a happy marriage have learned how uplifting serving others can be. Such youngsters are more likely to serve customers with smiling enthusiasm.” And… I love your recording “Perils of Profanity.” I hope that many, many more people get the chance to listen to it! Blessings.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Ben–
      Coming from you, your compliment really carries value. You really are a credit to your parents.
      Well done. We cherish your friendship

  3. Thank you for your words. I agree wholeheartedly with the connection between customer service and marriage. I work in a hospital and there is nothing I enjoy more than helping someone locate a department or helping them get an appropriate appointment. The more people I help in a day the happier I am when I arrive home in the evening. And I might add – why do the people who give poor customer service not see the direct line to the way they want to be treated when they are on the other side of this service? A conundrum for sure. I find generally speaking – you get what you give.
    Blessings to you both.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That’s right, Janice,
      Caring for others with competence and courtesy is holy work.

  4. My Rabbi and Susan,
    I’ve always had a great respect for the Jews. I once worked for a Jewish family that owned a wholesale distribution company in Columbus, Ohio. I was always amazed by their generosity to the needy. I also did some business with a Jewish store that had some good buys. I was impressed by the ladies that waited on me, they would put their hand under mine when they gave me my change so that I wouldn’t drop any.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Mark,
      That’s good to hear; thanks for recounting. Columbus has had a thriving Jewish community for a long time.

  5. Rabbi,

    Thanks for sharing this, and many other, thought-provoking articles. As a resident of NYC for over 16 years I can testify that what you’ve stated here is in fact a reality. Not only that, it is only an ever INCREASING reality in NYC as families move away from here in droves.

    I never really saw the connection between large single population and poor customer service but it makes sense. My observation over the years has been that the majority of TRUE New Yorkers (born and raised here) are actually quite nice and helpful. They just have a thick outer shell. The really RUDE “New Yorkers” are the transplants. Those people who come here with an idea about what New York is really like from movies, television, or just hearsay. So in order to defend themselves and to seem like true New Yorkers they act tough and rude. I don’t have actually stats/data but I can tell you from my observation that the majority of people moving here ARE in fact single. Not many married people with families are pouring across the Hudson. And if the singles that come here do end up finding someone here and getting married, I’ve seen that eventually most of them move away.

    This is one of the many reasons my wife and I have decided to pack up and leave the city “so nice they named it twice”. We have seen an ever increasing hostility to families with children (we have 3 and are planning on adopting more). You feel it as you walk down the street or try to have lunch/dinner in a restaurant. The city that never sleeps is a city for singles. This is something we are even seeing in our church, where young single millennials are being catered to more than young families.

    I want to thank you and to let you know that one of the many factors leading to our decision to move has been wisdom we’ve received from you. Specifically, there was an episode of Ancient Jewish Wisdom where you shared about a family who moved 1000 miles away to find a better environment for their family. We happened to watch that right in the moment we were praying and considering to move. After hearing it we really felt encouraged and knew God was speaking to us to move! (to Texas of all places!)

    So thank you for your great service to our family and many others. Keep up the fight, and we will do the same!

    God Bless,

    1. Andrew, I know my husband will reply, but as a native New Yorker I told him that he was only seeing part of the city, and that there was a different type of New Yorker as well. I left long ago and your words explain that things have changed since I grew up. I knew that, as I remember going on the subway wearing a dress with a crinoline and white gloves to see a Broadway show as a child, I don’t think that happens today. Your words make a lot of sense. Best wishes for a new life in Texax!

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      May your move go smoothly and bring happiness, health and prosperity to your family Andrew.

  6. Rabbi bless you for bringing a light into the darkness. In the past week I have started giving 5% of every wholesale order I get from a customer to their favorite charity. I am starting a list of their birthdays and will send a card. More free samples with each order. As more companies ask or should I say tell us as customers to do more for ourselves and charge us more I am going the other direction. These businesses fail to understand that we are humans and not mindless machines. We have feelings and like a flower needs sunlight and water to grow we need a smile and to be treated with respect and gratitude. Thank you once again for these words as they help to reinforce my view that what I am doing is correct.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Kim-
      Thanks for writing and expressing such uplifting and encouraging ideas. It does sound as if you’re on the right track.

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