Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Take a Tip From Frasier

It's been several years now since Frasier went off the air.

The character of Dr. Frasier Crane was always amusing. He was pompous, vain, self–absorbed and insecure, but he usually seemed to have the answers for his listeners, his family and his friends. And, in the series' fifth season, he marked the 1,000th broadcast of his radio program.

In typical Frasier style, he got the station management to arrange for an outdoor rally at the Space Needle in his honor, during which the mayor of Seattle was going to proclaim the occasion "Frasier Crane Day."

Also typically, Frasier's brother was practically seething with jealousy and made little attempt to hide it. That made for some good laughs, but, up to nearly the end of the show, it was pretty much formulaic Frasier.

Anyway, the big day arrived, and Frasier and Niles went for a stroll in the direction of the Space Needle. But they were detained along the way and couldn't get to the rally in time. Frasier happened upon an accommodating driver who offered him a lift to the Space Needle, and he eagerly accepted.

On the way there, Frasier got into a conversation with the driver, who admitted that he had been having a "rough day." The therapist in him took over, and Frasier prodded the driver for more details. The driver confided that his ex–wife was remarrying in Pennsylvania, and he hadn't decided whether to fly out for the wedding. He seemed to have little affection for either his ex–wife or his ex–in–laws, but the trip would give him a chance to see his children. He laughingly lamented his choice.

"Sometimes difficult choices like these can be good things," Frasier told him. "They can teach us about who we are."

By the time they arrived at the Space Needle, Frasier had become caught up in the driver's story and told him, "I've got plenty of time. Tell me more about your kids." The driver seemed grateful for the chance to talk about something that had been weighing on his mind, and he agreed to do so. "I'm John, by the way," he told Frasier.

Perhaps, in the words of Humphrey Bogart, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But, even if it wasn't, it's a lesson for our times.

When the episode was filmed in 1997, the economy was in good shape. Unemployment was about as low as most economists believe is possible. Today, with unemployment going up each month, many who haven't lost their jobs in the last couple of years are fearful that their heads might be the next ones on the chopping block.

It's hard for many people to open up and talk about the things that are bothering them, and you don't need to be a trained therapist like Frasier to know that that isn't good for one's mental health.

In these troubling times, you may not have a job to offer to someone. But if you've got two good ears and a voice you can use (sparingly) to ask questions that can get the other person talking, that's all you need initially. Then, once you know more about the person, you can be on the lookout for something that could make the difference for him/her.

But, even if you all you do is listen, you will have performed a valuable service for a person in need.