8 Ways to Make Your Life Better: The Basics of Gina School

These rules for behavior could make you a better person.

Posted Jan 09, 2020

In the public restroom shared by both students and faculty at the university where I teach, I noticed that in the stall next to mine a young woman, who was wearing overalls, had her clothes pooled on the floor next to her feet.

As a person who, in her youth, also wore overalls, I know that the great inconvenience of that particular clothing choice is the impossibility of using the bathroom without more or less removing your entire outfit. But as an adult, it took all my inner strength not to yell, “For heaven’s sake, kid, get your clean clothes off the toilet floor. Pay attention.”

That child needed to go to Gina School.

The concept of Gina School was introduced into a recent conversation between another young woman, the daughter of a good friend, at an elegant dinner celebrating the anniversary of her parents. I was seated next to the daughter and her long-term boyfriend.

A young man of good character and steady habits, the 24-year-old nevertheless lacked certain graces. The hosts of the dinner had carefully chosen the dishes to be served, addressing the dietary needs of 20 guests from four countries, and chosen wines to accompany the food.

For non-drinkers, there was sparkling water. The nice young man, however rather grandly, ordered a gin-and-tonic to be served with the first course. He shrugged, “What can I say? I’m not a wine guy.”

His girlfriend made a small face, like a cat sniffing a lemon peel and I said — having worked with young people for the last 38 years of my life and having no hesitation offering instruction — “Then have water. Don’t make the servers schlep all the way to the bar in a different part of the restaurant to fetch you gin when nobody offered it to you and nobody else is having it.”

His girlfriend said, “Can he attend Gina School?”

Since even he thought it was a good idea, here are some of Gina School’s basic lessons:

  1. When asked at an interview to describe your major flaw, do not say “I work too hard.” Given that every job seeker on the planet has used that line for the last 30 years, you’ve just illustrated that you certainly didn’t work too hard coming up with an ingenious answer. Speak thoughtfully, carefully, originally and memorably. If you can’t, then smarten up. Read more; know what matters; come up with your own ideas and opinions. Think for yourself and you’ll be more equipped to explain who you are.
  2. Learn the names of everybody you deal with on a regular basis and your life will be immeasurably better. Saying “I’m no good with names” is a lazy way of excusing yourself from believing that other people are important.     
  3. If you suspect somebody might need help, offer it. The worst that’ll happen is you’ll be shooed away by a person who has the situation under control. But you might also be able to make a significant change in someone’s day. So offer directions — if you actually know your way around. Offer to take a photo of a big group if you see that one of them is being left out of the picture. If you see an item drop out of somebody’s bag or pocket, let them know.
  4. Clean up after yourself. You ate from it, cooked in it, slept in it, finished it? Don’t just leave it there for somebody else. Wash it and replace it. The world is not your mother, and even your mother is getting tired of this stuff.
  5. The easiest thing in the world is to make somebody else miserable: It doesn’t take talent, wit, insight or guts to inflict emotional harm. Anybody can do. To make someone feel significant, recognized, cherished or admired, however, is a challenge that only the generous and self-respecting accept.
  6. Learn to address an envelope by hand and learn how to use a stamp. Then go to the post-office and mail your handwritten thank-you letters in a timely fashion.
  7. Avoid clichés, such as “in a timely fashion” whenever possible, but don’t lose sleep (sic) over them.
  8. Don’t let your dreams, plans, or fears for the future eclipse your experience of today. Pick everything up off the floor, kid, and pay attention.