A Thinking Lesson From Jerry Seinfeld

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People tell stories. What do we want them to say?

Throughout most of my relationship that ended in divorce, I would try to win every fight.

Because winning is good, right?


Fighting with someone you love is always a zero-sum game. It’s strange that I would fight most often with the person I loved the most, shared a house and bedroom with, and planned to live with forever.

I must be stupid.

Why is winning a fight with my spouse that can’t POSSIBLY make my life better no matter the outcome be more important to me than keeping the peace and being kind?

Even if I was right. And I was sometimes.

What good can come from it?

Comic legend Jerry Seinfeld has a project called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

I watched my first episode yesterday. Liked it.

It was Jerry and Sarah Jessica Parker driving around in a classic Ford woody station wagon Parker had bought recently.

The entire episode is full of stories and banter between the two. (Every episode is like that with someone new.)

Jerry likes to drink a lot of coffee, so at one point during the segment, they stop at a diner.

The two multi-millionaires have a funny exchange about who is going to pay their $37 bill.

Jerry asks how much she would tip.

Sarah does some quick math to calculate the tip: She would leave $10. A respectable 27 percent.

Clearly not enough for Jerry, though.

They have some more back and forth, and Sarah says: “$20? Should we leave $20?”

A nice tip. That would be more than 50 percent.

She looks down and sees the tip Jerry leaves, and she makes an impressed face. She says something to the effect of: “Wow. Really? That much??”

And Jerry just looks at her across the diner booth. Then says this:

“That waitress is going to tell everyone she knows that she waited on Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Jessica Parker. Every person she tells will ask: ‘How big of a tip did they leave you?’

“What story do you want her to tell them?”

What story do we want people to tell?

Isn’t that all we really have?

The stories our children and friends and neighbors and family tell about us?

In business, it’s the stories our employers and co-workers and clients and customers tell about us.

Sure, Jerry’s rich. So he can afford to tip 100 percent or 500 percent or much, much more.

But EVERYONE can suck it up and help their friends move furniture even when they don’t feel like it.

EVERYONE can volunteer to help out a local charity or at one of their child’s school functions.

EVERYONE can forfeit something they want to do in order to make someone they love happy by doing what they’d prefer.

Everyone can give more than they take.

And then when we’re gone some day, maybe someone will see a photo.

“That’s my dad,” my son might say. “He was one of the good guys.

“At the funeral, everyone said he was kind and funny and generous. They must have known him because that’s the guy I knew, too.

“Kind. Funny. Generous. That was my father. And that’s how I want to be, too.”

If I die today, not everyone will be able to say that about me. I’m not always kind or funny or generous.

Sometimes I’m a total dick. But I don’t want to be. Not ever.

And I hope the next time I’m faced with a choice, I choose the thing that will make me a reflection of that desired narrative.

What story do we want people to tell?

And then maybe I’ll leave a bigger tip.

Be more generous with my time.

Live more kindly and courageously.

Because that’d make for a pretty good story.

12 thoughts on “A Thinking Lesson From Jerry Seinfeld”

      1. completelyinthedark

        It’s been a tough “late fall” … at least we don’t have the snowfall upper NY got! :-O

  1. Not always easy to leave our pride behind and let someone else win. Especially if we’re ‘right’…right? But I try to remember when I’m stressed at work and someone needs something and someone else needs something else and the phone is ringing and the email is blinking that each person deserves a kind boss. An understanding boss. A friendly boss. Makes my day happier if I restrain my need to win. But it isn’t always easy.

  2. Great post!

    Relationships can be really hard because we do want to win every fight. Winning isn’t the goal however, communion is, intimacy is, trust is. I had to learn this the hard way, winning several battles, but realizing they were somewhat empty victories. Winning actually makes me miserable. I may have been right, but I wasn’t gracious enough to try doing something in a different way or charitable enough to let hubby experience something his way and discover for his own self why it may not work. I do much better now.

    As to the stories people tell, it matters. It’s hard to see and fully understand how much of an impact you can have, how vitally important you might be to somebody’s life. I can remember several people who completely altered my course, changed my perspective, with some simple acts, some people who didn’t even know me, but they gave just a little bit of themselves and it changed everything. It matters. It’s huge.

    1. Thank you. I agree very much with everything you said here from the husband point of view. Different roles and circumstances. But the end result is the same. Hopefully growth.

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