The Corner

The Phone Booth Effect

Was that really the effect of charm? Or was it just relief plus good

manners, a reader wonders:

“But Derb, you weren’t charmed, just placated. Also, you were brought speak

politely and civilly to anyone who spoke politely and civilly to you—so

your response was probably at least in part Pavlovian.

“What happened was (in my view): You had gone from wanting to rip her

bodily from the box to simply being greatly, greatly relieved that she was

finally buggering off. All her charm at that moment had to do with her

buggering off. Had she failed to bugger off, and you had been forced to go

home untelephoned, and you saw her later buying stamps, you might have

thought: ‘that’s the dragon that stopped me from calling!’ Even if she

turned ever so sweetly and said, ‘I do believe the postal clerk is ready for

you now.’

“I think that guilt afflicts generous-hearted people when they thinking

badly of anyone, especially on occasions that smooth over the despised

person’s rough edges, with lots of smiling, handshaking, and

so-pleased-to-meet-you-ing. (Anyone can be pleasant for five minutes.)

Then the guilt and doubt sets in. After all, this person is loved by

SOMEONE, and has probably done a good turn for someone SOMETIME.

“I think the guilt’s misplaced in the case of Clinton, but there you are.”

I’m going to think about this one. I sure appreciate the flattery, though.

Generous-hearted… well-raised… polite and civil… Yep, this reader

has me dead to rights, no use denying it.

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