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What I learned in 2019 about dealing with people

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Lack of intelligence is a highly forgivable drawback.

But what about willful ignorance and misbehavior? What about the people you see as a taste you’re just never going to acquire? Those whose very presence makes death by a thousand cuts, in comparison, sound inviting?

I once worked with a guy who really had no idea what he was doing. But it was worse than that. He also had no idea that he had no idea what he was doing. 

My favorite epigram about relationships with other humans came in the 1989 movie “Sea Of Love.” Al Pacino, playing an alcoholic and lovelorn NYPD detective, explains his philosophy of life to a pal at a bar. “People are work,” he says.

And there it is, folks, just three words that capture everything we might need to say about the topic. Every year ends with me understanding a little more than the year before about what other people need to do to get along better. Or so I presume, anyway. Here I’ve collected my top takeaways for 2019.

Most people tend to talk too much. It’s really as if they’re getting paid by the word. Or were promised a volume discount. These chatterboxes apparently believe they’re extending you a special privilege — that they get to talk and that you, in turn, get to listen.

Somehow, possibly because I’m naturally more listener than talker, I’ve come to know more than a few such motormouths. If they ever keep any information to themselves, that is a well-kept secret. Every thought is blurted out — unedited. For them, pausing to listen to what anyone else has to say appears unnatural.   

My advice is simple. Take a breath. Consider shutting up. You may live longer.

Other people, I find, generally skew negative. I knew someone who always let you know who had just died or was probably about to die. His overall attitude had all the levity of the last scene in “La Boheme.” 

Once again, my advice is basic. Suck on some helium and stop taking all the air out of the room. See a Disney movie.

Some people just flat-out misbehave. I had a neighbor known in our apartment complex to be a cheat. All her redeeming features were well hidden. She was such a crook her cash bounced. I also had an acquaintance who drank a lot of alcohol at our beach club. But at least she saved it for special occasions. Like day or night.

Almost everyone goes around as if hypnotized or sleepwalking. The more I see people staring at their phones while navigating sidewalks or crossing streets, the more I’m convinced we should define multitasking as the ability to perform several tasks badly at the same time.

What to do? What if your efforts to develop an affinity for someone fail? What if you just have too many creative differences, if only because they’re always wrong and you’re always right?

You could just accept that you have a strong mutual understanding with certain people, even if it really means you intensely dislike each other. Or you could try to settle matters with a blunt conversation. “Hey, listen,” you could say, “when it comes to people, I’ve decided to go in a totally different direction. From now on I’m going to focus on quality.”

To start your new year right, you could do worse.

Bob Brody is a public-relations consultant and essayist in Forest Hills. He is the author of "Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age."

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