But I don’t know him, why am I signing his retirement card?

Do you work in an office that passes around cards to sign? You know—for birthdays, get wells, get betters—that sort of thing?

I do. And I go back and forth from being a decent human being who doesn’t mind signing them (and even wants to know more about the situation), to being a heartless jerk who rolls my eyes when a new stack comes in.

I think the main thing that I find interesting about the topic (enough to write a blog post about it), is how propriety trumps genuineness. And not just here, but in a great number of other interactions with our friends and co-workers (mainly work environments, where we are already in a “required to be here; required to put on airs” sort of state).

Each time someone sneezes, we say “God bless you” or “bless you” (if you yourself are the Lord and do your own blessing, I suppose). I don’t think many of us actually thinks bad spirits are waiting to be sucked in as we gasp after a sneeze (the origins of the pagan blessing), but we feel outright rude or bad if we don’t say anything when the person next cubicle sneezes. And am I supposed to keep saying “bless you” during her regular sneezing fits in allergy season? Poor lady machine-guns those things out. Do I wait until there’s a lull? Then start up after the next batch?

We say “sorry” a billion times a day for no damned reason. Coughing, moving first to get out of the elevator as someone is also trying to leave, slightly startling someone, BEING startled ourselves…what’s with all of the apologies? Do we actually mean it? No, of course not. That’s why #sorrynotsorry is a meme. If we went through our day being that overwrought with remorse, we’d be mewing, obsequious drones. Come to think of it….

We’re obscenely promiscuous with giving away our “best” in most circumstances. Best wishes, best of luck, best intentions…we will even give someone our best in an automatic email signature without any cause for concern. Why did you give your best *something-or-other* to that guy’s roommate, whom you’ve never met? Doesn’t your spouse deserve your best, you monster?

And so come the cards. My office signs their fair share. It started on my literal first day on the job. I was signing “bests” and “get well soon” and “sorry to hear for your loss” to all sorts of people I didn’t know.

“Was she an employees here?”

“Who?”

“The card person–the person I guess who died?”

“Yes, she died. No, she didn’t work here. She was the wife of a friend of a co-worker.”

“Oh, okay. Did Kate sign yet?”

“No, and she’s at lunch.”

“Crap.”

The card comes in—sometimes several trickle in over the course of a couple of hours. I stop what I’m doing, write my little appropriate, heartfelt but not too much, genuine but not too much, concerned but not too much, burst of appropriate words, then check off my name from the cover sheet (like many places, we have cover sheets and folders), then find someone else on the list who is actually at his/her desks. The charge of responsibility isn’t passed until the next host is found. I’ll get back to my desk just in time for another one to come in.

A couple of times, I nearly wrote a “so happy for you, congrats” retirement quip on someone’s sympathy card—for losing a pet or spouse or something—heck if I remember, but crisis averted! I sent it down the line with the appropriate appropriateness and never thought of the person again until now.

One of my co-workers said, “I keep a computer file with funny, serious and congratulatory sayings and rotate through those. You just have to be careful not to mix them up.”

Which is my point. It’s like the birthday celebration on “Office Space” where everybody murmurs out a flat, barely audible sigh of the birthday song, then more eagerly waits for their piece of cake.

“Yum, cake! Why are we here?”

“Some chick had a birthday?”

“Who?”

“Margret, I think?”

“Margret?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, okay.”

The cynic in me recognizes these cards of sympathy and congratulations are more for ourselves than the other person. But the humanist in me does care enough for my fellow man so as not to advocate for the discontinuation of the forced sympathy.

…So not bringing it up is also self-serving, I suppose? So tricky.

###

About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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