“Be nice to the janitor.”

Random online comment of a reviewer of Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life”

The last week I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and also read a few of the online comments of reviewers. A lady reviewer shared her mother’s Rules for Life. One of them was “Be nice to the janitor,” which is basically the idea to not take anyone for granted and be thankful wherever you are and be kind to those who serve you, because how you treat people behind the scenes really reflects who you are. The people who see you in your private moments really know you. You can’t fake being a nice person to them.

I remember a janitor of a church denominational headquarters sharing with me that part of his job was to clean the denominational president’s office. He was so grossed out doing this, because every week he had to vacuum up the denominational leader’s fingernail clippings that he absentmindedly left on the carpet. Gross. And this guy was preaching to hundreds every Sunday in churches all over the state? The janitor wasn’t impressed. Preaching on Sunday; leaving fingernail clippings on the carpet for the janitor on Monday. Somehow the message and this little routine didn’t line up for his janitor. No doubt the denominational leader wasn’t even aware of this little quirk.

Your kids will see how you treat the Walmart checkout lady and the teenager taking your order at McDonalds.

The latter is the toughest for me:

McDonalds Teenager Order Taker: Can I take your order?
Me: Sure. I’ll take a hamburger, small fry and a small drink to go.
McDonald’s Teenage Order Taker: I’m sorry. What was that again?
Me: I’ll take a hamburger, small fry and a small drink to go.
McDonald’s Teenage Order Taker: So that will be a hamburger, small fry and a small drink?
Me: Right.
McDonald’s Teenage Order Taker: OK. Will that be for here or to go?
(Me to myself: ”Be nice to the janitor. Be nice to the janitor. Be nice to the janitor.”)
Me: (usually with admirable self-control): To go.

Really, really hard for me. I have to just give up my expectations. I’ve got a new personal rule I’ve been following:

Do not tell the order taker your order is for here or to go unless asked.


Keep your dignity. Do not let the teenage order-taker at McDonalds take you down.

Your kids see you. They watch you like a hawk. I carry a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket. It has a cool little can opener that curves to a point and I use it in non-aware moments by habit when I frequently get something stuck in several too-big-of gaps in my teeth. My 4-year-old grandson grabs my Swiss Army Knife and sticks it in his mouth! I kid you not. Holy crap! I wasn’t even aware I was doing that and wow…that was scary.

And if they see you stick your knife in your mouth, what else are they observing? And what else will they be doing, following your lead?

How you treat the people who serve you is one of those unaware moments where you need to be aware. There are consequences to your behavior, whether you are aware or not. Your life is made up of all your actions, some spontaneous, but mostly habitual. What kind of actions are governing your life? This goes for your marriage, too. How do you treat your wife in those non-aware, habitual moments? You inwardly scoff your husband? You won’t look at her? Your kids can tell.

There’s a really scary verse in Ecclesiastes that reveals our darker side: “Do not revile the king even in your thoughts.” (Ecclesiastes 10:20a). Ouch! Who of us ever even remotely kept that command?! Maybe we should all be switching the channel! The next phrase says, “”Or curse the rich in your bedroom.” Then a reason is given: “because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”

Of course. There are consequences to your secret, revengeful thoughts. Who’s the little bird? A poetic voice to imply “Who knows?” Your wife heard you say those things. Your kids heard. Maybe the maid. God, heard, of course. You heard. You are nursing your wounds. Your resentments stifle and limit you. They define you. They eat you away from the inside out. It’s a habit … often you are unaware.

There’s another take on this in Deuteronomy (27:18): “Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road.” And in Leviticus ( 9:14) “Do not curse the deaf.” The blind man doesn’t know you are leading him astray. The deaf man doesn’t know you are cursing him. The King doesn’t know you are cursing him. But you know. God knows. Your kids know. In another place Jesus says (Matthew 6: 3-4) “let your giving be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There’s secrets about you good or bad. You can invest your private thoughts and feelings and actions for good or ill.

  • Be nice to the janitor.
  • Do not curse the deaf.
  • Do not lead the blind astray.
  • Do not curse the rich in your bedroom.
  • Give in secret.
  • Do not curse the King in your head.
  • Do not rush the McDonald’s checkout dude.
  • Don’t leave your fingernail clippings on the carpet for somebody else to pick up.

All very hard things to do that reveal our shallow souls. Your life is made up of these very tiny, seemingly insignificant, mundane, moments that truly reveal who you are. Your wife or husband, your children and co-workers, fellow students and neighbors see these little unaware moments. They make a mental note.

What kind of mental note would it be?

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