Gas Station Wisdom From a Modern Day Sage

Gas Station Wisdom

If we are paying attention, wisdom can enter our life from almost anywhere. Life lessons and wisdom are abundantly available for those who are open to learning. This is the story of one such lesson that could have been easily overlooked.

It seems that every small town has a least one local gas station, and that’s the setting for this story. We have one on the edge of town that’s run by an easy going guy named Jimmy. Now for those of you who are accustom to self service gas stations, allow me to adjust your perspective slightly.

Once upon a time

You see, years ago we referred to them as service stations rather than gas stations. The reason? Well, because they offered services that are extremely rare these days. They would wash your windshield, check the air pressure in your tires, and even open the hood and look around.

In Oregon, there are no self service gas stations. In fact, it’s against the law to pump your own gas. So as unlikely as it may seem, the spirit of the old service station still exists. This is especially true in smaller towns.

Anyway, Jimmy meets a lot of people in the course of his job, including newcomers who are just moving here. There is one particular question that he is asked fairly often. I feel that his answer reflects a real depth of wisdom and insight into human nature. That’s what I want to share it with you.

The question

When people move here they are usually curious about about quite a few things. One of the most common questions they ask is: “What are the people like around here?”

Now that’s a perfectly normal question, but it’s also open to interpretation because it calls for an opinion. Well, Jimmy has too much wisdom to just offer an opinion, so he uses their question to learn something about those curious newcomers. His response also offers an opportunity for a little self examination to those who are really listening.

The subtle wisdom of his insightful response

When someone says, “we just moved here and we were wondering, what are the people like around here?” Here’s how he responds. Rather than giving his opinion, Jimmy answers them with another question, one that can be quite revealing. He asks, “What are the people like in the town where you just moved from?”

Now, instead of giving them his opinion, he gets to listen to theirs. Interestingly, no matter how they answer his question, his response is always the same. In fact, his response is the key to the wisdom locked up in this simple life lesson. Let’s consider two possible scenarios.

What were your old neighbors like?

If they tell him something like: “The people where we came from were hard to get along with. We lived there for six years and didn’t even know our neighbors. It was the most unfriendly place we have ever lived.” Then Jimmy says, “That’s what the people around here are like also.”

On the other hand, if they say something like: “The people where we just moved from are wonderful. We were friends with all of our neighbors. It was the nicest group of people we have ever lived around.” Then Jimmy says, “That’s what the people are like around here also.”

Where’s the wisdom in that?

As it turns out, Jimmy has a very practical sense of wisdom about human nature that many people fail to recognize. He understands that life is about perspective and attitude. We are the ones who decide what to make out of our circumstances. In other words, we bring it with us wherever we go.

If we have a good attitude about the people around us, that’s what we project. If we have a bad attitude, then that’s what we project. Whatever we project will be reflected back on us by our environment. To a huge degree, we live in a world of our own making.

What kind of world do you live in?

Now it’s time for each of us to ask ourselves, What are the people like where I live?” You see, changing neighborhoods, jobs, friends, or even marriage mates won’t necessarily make life better.

If we want to improve the quality of our lives and our relationships, then we need to start a little closer to home. We need to think about what kind of attitude we are projecting into the world we live in. Wisdom dictates that we can’t move away from our own attitude. If we want to live in a better world, we need to start with a better attitude.

How do you feel about the role of attitude?
Have some wisdom of your own to add?
The lines are open!

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  1. Kikolani June 11, 2009 Reply

    Wow… what a great response. I guess that is true. I was thinking about something similar yesterday, when I was talking to someone about apartment dwellers. I had always had this impression that apartment people would have more community because of their close proximity. But I’ve lived in many different apartments, and none seemed to have that – in two different states. Really, the common element is me between all of those – it’s not that the neighbors don’t want to be friends, it’s just that I’m a bit too shy to go up and introduce myself, and maybe they just assume that I don’t want anything.

    ~ Kristi

    • Jonathan June 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Kristi, Sadly there is a reverse scycological effect that often occures when people live in very close proximity, as in the case of apartments. Because they have very little space around them, they create space as a proctective buffer. In these situations it may require a little extra effort to make a connection.

  2. Rocket Bunny June 11, 2009 Reply

    I find older people are more apt to be curious and more friendly.
    They bring over something homemade or from their garden and introduce themselves. Very nice gesture.
    Then in our neighborhood in a couple of states we had block parties. This was very nice.
    In the city – where I was raised it was different. Too many people found it threatening if you say hi or even smiled.They figured you were going to mug them or something.
    Great article and thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

    • Jonathan June 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Bunny, It’s true that people’s community friendlyness curve does vary from place to place. And in some places there is certainly higher levels of fear. Even in tough situations though, our attitude can make a huge difference. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Lea June 11, 2009 Reply

    This reminds me of a story I read a while ago. Can’t remember if it was a Zen or a Buddha story. Nonetheless, it’s a nice story, great thought provoker and eye opener. Being naturally shy myself, this is a good reminder that instead of waiting for other people to initiate a smile or greeting, I should remember to be the initiator.

    • Jonathan June 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Lea, it’s amazing how many bloggers are naturally shy. I think you made a good point. Even a smile can have a huge impact on how people respond to us. In most situations they usually smile back.

  4. Celes June 12, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, I love the response that Jimmy gives. This reminds me on how all of us views reality with our subjective lens, and no matter what we do, this lens will always be there to affect how we see reality. It’s important to be aware of that no matter what we do, and that even when we think we’re being objective, there’s still subjectivity in it.

    • Jonathan June 12, 2009 Reply

      Hi Celes, thanks for mentioning that our subjective lens through which we view reality will always be there. You are so right. We can never achieve total objectivity, nor would we want to. Learning to focus that lens in a constructive way is really the key.

  5. Dragos Roua June 12, 2009 Reply

    That’s really a great lesson. Surroundings are just part of the setup, they’re just a scene. What matters most is how YOU act up on that scene. You change your play, regardless of the other actors or settings. Jimmy looks like a very clever guy to me :-)

    That was a nice, refreshing article, Jonathan :-)

    • Jonathan June 12, 2009 Reply

      Hey Dragos, good point about the role of our actions. You know, there are a lot of Jimmys out there if we want to open ourselves up to learning from a variety of sources.

  6. Vin June 12, 2009 Reply

    This is a great concept for all of us to think about on a regular basis – the reactions and treatment we get from other people are most often a direct result of our own behavior. I love the irony of a gas station attendant understanding this better than the people he’s pumping gas for, most of which are likely making much more money than him. It just goes to show that financial success is often a poor indicator of emotional intelligence and awareness, particularly in regard to interactions with others.

    • Jonathan June 12, 2009 Reply

      Hi Vin, I appreciated the irony as well. It shows that we need to be open to wisdom from any source. Humility and learning often go hand in hand.

  7. Arswino June 12, 2009 Reply

    A very worthy life lesson, Jonathan. The problem is not our environment. The problem is always within ourselves. As you said, our attitude is the key to our relationship.
    Thank you, Jonathan. :)

    • Jonathan June 12, 2009 Reply

      Hi Arswino, thanks for joining in. I like to think of the world as a giant mirror. In many ways what we see is a reflection of ourselves.

  8. Stephen June 13, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, I can’t believe self-service stations are against the law in Oregon!

    Great lesson in this article.

    “We are the ones who decide what to make out of our circumstances. In other words, we bring it with us wherever we go.”

    When I finally figured this out it made a world of difference to me.

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