Some weeks ago a friend of my grandmother came to visit. She was an energetic stocky woman of crude manners—which is surprising for me to notice, since I have crude manners too. She dropped by for lunch, and when my grandmother suggested staying until dinner, she enthusiastically consented without the usual negotiations to figure out if the invitation was extended out of courtesy.
As they chatted in the little room where my grandmother plays solitaire on the computer, I made my regular rounds emptying the ashtray, making sure grandma had enough water in her glass, refilling her cigarette case, and so on. There was nothing out of the ordinary in this routine, it’s a matter of habit and convenience.
In one of these rounds, the lady said “Oh, it must be great to have a butler at home”, to which my grandmother looked at me with derision and rolled her eyes. To my grandmother’s treatment I’ve become immune, but the words of the lady provoked a strange mixture of amusement and annoyance. I was about to protest, but I smiled politely at her and left the room.
As I went on with my chores in the kitchen, the amusement overcame the annoyance and I had to accept the truth in her words. I have become a butler of sorts. This obvious in the physical realm, because routine and emotional insulation makes you act professionally no matter the circumstance. However, the term was especially illuminating in the psychological realm.
In the beginning, I wanted to solve all of my grandmother’s problems. If she told me she was anxious about X, I said I could solve X. This was often met with anger: “you don’t know how to do X”. After a while of this, I became completely passive until she asked me to do something, but this would also frustrate her. With time, I intuitively figured out how to suggest a solution for X without taking away her agency, e.g. “Do you think Mr. Z can help us resolve X?”. This would set things in motion so that the necessary outcome was produced.
When dinner time came I was superbly professional attending my grandmother and her guest. My grandmother disliked that I would also serve the guest when she could help herself, but I joked that was my role as a butler. Since then, I’ve accepted this mental model and it has made both of our lives easier.
I would like to come to a more rounded conclusion to this work log, but it is time to begin my preparations for the morning: I will put a pill into a small glass and then fill a cup of cold water with a straw in it and take it to my grandmother at exactly 9 am. The pill goes into a glass because she is disgusted by having to put something into her mouth which comes from my fingers. The straw, because I would have to grab the cup near the rim to give the handle to her, and this would disgust her too. I used to feel rejected from this reaction, but understanding that I’m the butler, it comes naturally.