Hello Everyone, Welcome to the podcast “Close to the Bone.” I’m Carl Vreeland.
This is episode #45, it’s called, “No Problem.”
At the risk of sounding like a complainer, ranting on about how things have changed for the worse in today’s world, and chancing sounding like an old man longing for the good ‘ole days, I am going to attempt to objectively look at something that deeply concerns me. It’s something that I believe we are overlooking, an issue that will have long term effects on our society.
Let’s look at the typical replies or responses we are experiencing primarily in the service industries, but nevertheless most everywhere; replies such as “No problem” or “It’s not a problem.” I believe they are or have become scripted and unengaged expressions, displaying apathy, non-commitment, and detachment. There is no feeling, heart, or soul behind them. These replies are insincere, empty, and sometimes even dismissive, like “OK, next.” Moreover, they are dismissive to the one expressing them. Meaning, they are dismissing their own feelings. Not unlike “no worries” or even more so “it’s all good.” These young folks think they’re being all chill and Zen, like nothing upsets them or bothers them, but they are really denying their own feelings, suppressing them, or repressing them, not processing them, and not expressing them. It’s not Zen, it’s detachment. But I digress. . . .
“No problem” is not a proper reply. And it’s certainly not a good substitute to a “you’re welcome,” especially in the service industry. When I am spending my money at a café, restaurant, or clothing store, I don’t want to feel as if I was a problem. “Thank you Ma’am.” “No problem.” Is that courteous? Wouldn’t “you’re very welcome” or “my pleasure to help you” be more appropriate?
One might say, “Who cares, why does this bother you, Carl?” Well, that’s part of my concern; a non-caring attitude. It reminds me of the many parents who let their young kids listen to music that is inappropriate for their age. “Oh, lighten up, Carl. That’s what the young kids listen to today.” This is part of the problem; we allow everything to go on without giving it thought. There is less and less caring taking place. One could say, “Well, we are too busy for this kind of thing, Carl. There are more important things to be concerned with in this day and age.” Again, here’s lies the problem; it’s the micro that impacts the macro, I guess you could say. I think we need to wake up. Indeed, we are asleep, and so is your server. He doesn’t really care. He’s not engaged. “Not a problem” is just an automatic response.
Moreover, when I order a coffee and receive it from the barista and say “thank you,” “Not a problem” doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t want to feel like I was a problem. Now, if I asked the barista to make my coffee hotter, apologizing for the trouble, “not a problem,” would be an appropriate reply. Although, only by default.
Now to be clear here. . . I don’t think these young folks are feeling this way; meaning, that I’m a problem. No, I’m sure it’s just a phrase that caught on and took hold, to replace “you’re welcome.” But to point out, I believe it’s a sure sign of the times, a sign of safe spaces, avoidance, and conformity. Problem is, words matter, they have meaning, they have implications. And these young people should especially know this. I mean, this new generation loudly claims that words matter, that words can be harmful and even violent. They are fighting for pronouns to be changed and for literature they find offensive to be edited or banned. Yet, in their everyday, daily language they are absent-minded. Indeed, pronouns have replaced politeness, texting has replaced talking, and safe spaces and good vibes only have replaced conversations. This is the problem with “no problem” as a response; everyday language and interactions matter. . . more than anything else, in fact. Strong words and real engagement is how we communicate and cooperate with one another. So, what’s going here?
Well, I believe it’s a disconnect. And this disconnect could be a result of video games, smartphones, texting, emailing, and social media. Certainly, social skills, language skills, and the learning in schools are lacking. But whatever the reasons, it’s no doubt a sign of, or lack of mindfulness. Yes, there is less presence in the service industry and in the world; it’s happening everywhere. It’s safe to say that we are all becoming automatons. Many of us, while ordering our coffee, are on our smartphones with our air pods in our ears, doing business deals or having conversations with friends. . . . thinking about it, how can we blame the baristas for entirely tuning out; we all play a role. We are all contributing and becoming more and more separated from one another. We’ve become too busy to look at one another in the eye, to smile, to connect, to even chat on the phone. Yes, perhaps this “not a problem” reply is just in response to our disengagement.
Surely, it’s easy to blame these young teenagers for their lack of professionalism, just like it’s easy to blame young kids for not offering their seat on the bus to an elderly person. Which is why we must look at their role models. What about the parents? What about store managers? Why aren’t these kids not giving up their seats for elderly people? Why aren’t these servers, cashiers, and baristas being trained by their place of employment, the managers? Again, we are all responsible for these problems, and we are all turning apathetic.
This lack of engagement, presence, and caring was shown to me in spades recently. I was covering a class for a fellow teacher. And I mistakenly drove to the wrong location. Realizing this, I jumped into my car and called the studio. I explained the situation to the front desk person, asking them to notify management and to inform my students that I would be 10 minutes late. His response was. . . yep, you got it, “OK, no problem.” I was going to be late and he said no problem. I wanted to say to him, “No, it’s a problem. I’m going to be late and that’s not a good thing.”
Now, one could say that he was trying to keep me calm. But he wasn’t. It was an automatic, automated, robotic, apathetic response, just like every other “no problem” I experienced in the past. It was insincere. If he wanted to comfort me, he would’ve been listening to me, feeling me. He would have picked up on the flustered sound of my voice. He would have said, “OK, drive safely, Carl. Don’t rush, it’ll be fine. Breathe easy.” Yes, something like that; engaged and in the moment. But no, no one is in the moment any longer. No one is engaging with passion and interest.
And why is this? Well. . . again, maybe it’s because everyone is playing it safe. Yes, with the way the world is today, with everyone being so easily offended and taking things the wrong way, well. . . it’s easier to understand why people would use standard, safe language. Hell, I find myself doing the same thing as well. I’m not nearly as friendly as I used to be. “Hello. How are you? That’s good, me too. OK, have a nice day.” I wouldn’t dare say, “You look tired, everything OK?” Or “You look lovely today, and your beautiful smile always brightens my day.” No, no, those days are over. Perhaps the reply “no problem” is no different, in that, it’s a simple and safe response that fits all sizes, so to speak.
With all that said, I can’t give up hope on people and humanity. And in turn, I won’t give up on the younger generation and their view of the world. After all, I was once young. And to quote a poem written by my late mother. . . “We all must go to make room for the young ones who will do all the wonderful things that the ones who left did before them.”
Well. . . I’m not quite there yet.
OK folks, I’ll leave it here. As always, thank you for listening.
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