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My View: It takes little effort to be kind to others

By Joseph Xavier Martin

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. The meaning of that phrase came to mind one day when we were standing in line at a bakery-cafe, waiting to order a coffee and bagel. With each purchase, the company records your expenditure and frequently offers you a bagel, pastry, coffee or some other food product as a reward for being a good customer. In that we are regular patrons of this estimable establishment, we are frequent recipients of this reward program and are very appreciative of the company’s largesse.

On this particular morning, a gentleman in his mid-70s was standing in front of us. His suspenders marked him as a spiffy dresser, or one who likes to be noticed. When the staffer asked if he wanted to use his rewards card, to qualify for these inducements, he uttered the following:

“Why would I ever even use the card? You never give me any of the free stuff that I want.”

The clerk, nonplussed, took his order and completed the transaction. Like all people who work in retail, she was long inured to boobs and rude behavior. We, who did not, were appalled.

“You don’t give me any of the free stuff I want,” I repeated to myself. Was this guy for real? A company this generous isn’t even appreciated by a boob who wants more?

There is an expression, which dates back to antiquity, that best characterizes this situation: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Various reference works explain the meaning of the phrase thusly: “Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Wait, why would I not want to do that? Well, think of it this way. If someone was polite enough to give you your very own horse as a gift, would you then inspect the animal to see if it’s of good quality, especially when the person who gave the horse to you is standing right there next to you? Probably not, because that might be seen as very rude behavior.”

Well, this banana had just taken a very big look at the horse’s teeth and not even realized he was being a boob in doing so. Some people are just like that I guess.

Years back, I had a very good friend and political ally in Buffalo’s City Hall. Carl Perla, a West Side political baron and the son of Sicilian immigrants, was possessed of that earthy wisdom acquired by people who for centuries had worked the soil to scratch out a hard living.

“Some people are never happy,” he often opined. “They travel through the banquet of life with a chicken under one arm, a ham under the other and both hands filled with veal cutlets. And instead of enjoying the blessings showered upon them, they are extremely unhappy that they don’t have two hands free to grab two more steaks off of the table, in the banquet of life.”

I have often thought of Carl’s earthy wisdom and remembered it this day while watching the rude doofus in that line, “looking into the horse’s mouth.”

The older I get the more grateful I am for kindness. In this society many people are too busy to be kind.

Life, as Carl suggested, is truly a banquet where the blessings of the good Lord have been showered upon us. And when a company, or any kind soul, decides to add to that banquet, with customer loyalty rewards or just a random act of kindness, we should be appreciative of any additional bounty that we are given.

So, say “thanks” when someone does something nice for you. It doesn’t happen all that often and generous people deserve to be acknowledged. Also, you don’t want to be labeled a doofus by the people standing behind you in line.

Joseph Xavier Martin, who lives in Williamsville, loves to learn the basis of oft-used phrases.
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