I had my teeth cleaned today, and as I sat in the chair, I wondered if hygienists have a course in school titled “Chatting with the Patient.” Every dentist I know has a chatty staff. By the time my session ended today, I knew the following: Her favorite author is Nicholas Sparks. She made her son’s 8th-grade civics project which won a blue ribbon. She is buying that son a camera for his physical therapy program graduation present. And she had a sinus headache last week. Towards the end of the session, she also informed me that I was no longer flossing effectively. This last point, I was about to argue, but then I saw my mouth in the mirror. And since I resembled a vampire right after feeding, I decided to keep quiet.
For all her chattiness, my hygienist somehow manages to scrape my very sensitive teeth without causing pain. So I’ve decided to let her be who she is. Twice a year, I simple nod or make a noise that I hope sounds like a laugh when she tells one story after another while poking my gums with various sharp instruments.
However, I wonder (because that’s how I like to spend my time in the dentist chair, thinking deep thoughts to take my mind off the implements getting closer and closer to exposed roots) if I grant my friends the same courtesy. Sometimes I assume that the opinions of those I like and respect are automatically going to coincide with mine on various political, ethical, or even workplace issues. It can be quite a jolt when they don’t. My first response is often that something has happened to them, and they need to change back to the perfect way they were: you know, when they were like me. It is one of the hardest lessons to learn (and I certainly haven’t learned it yet) that rational people can examine a situation and come to a conclusion that’s totally different to mine.
So my post-dentist resolution today is to give my friends the same break I give my hygienist. You are allowed to be who you are, and I promise not to attack you or try to guilt you into changing. However, I can’t promise to read any Nicholas Sparks’s books you give me.