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ICYMI: Raise Your Glass (finding gratitude in IT)

Working in IT can often feel like long periods of soul-crushing depression and frustration as we work through a technical issue, punctuated by brief moments of insane euphoria when we find a solution, followed by yet another period of soul crushing depression and frustration when we move on to the next problem. In this light, learning to take time to celebrate and express gratitude is essential. In this episode, Leon, Josh, and Doug explore the habits we’ve developed as IT pros to get us through the hard parts of the job; and the lessons from our religious, moral, or ethical tradition can we bring to bear. Listen or read the transcript below.

Doug: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion. We’re here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh – or at least not conflict – with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:24 I’ve often described working in IT like this: It’s long periods of soul crushing depression and frustration as we work through a technical issue, punctuated by brief moments of insane euphoria when we find the solution followed by yet another period of soul crushing depression and frustration when we move on to the next problem. In this light, learning to take time to celebrate and express gratitude is essential. What happens have we developed as IT pros to get us through the hard parts of the job? What lessons from our religious, moral, or ethical tradition can we bring to bear? I’m Leon Adato, and the other voices you’re going to hear on this episode are my partners in podcasting crime, Doug Johnson.

Doug: 01:01 Hello,

Leon: 01:02 and Josh Biggley.

Josh: 01:04 Hello.

Leon: 01:05 All right. As has become our habit. Let’s go ahead and just dive into a moment of shameless self promotion. Doug, kick it off.

Doug: 01:12 I’m Doug Johnson. I’m the chief technical officer of WaveRFID. We do really cool stuff with inventory and RFID and weird things like that.

Leon: 01:23 He’s waving his hands.

Doug: 01:25 Wavy hand-waving. I’m an evangelical Christian and you can find information about what we do

Leon: 01:33 Great. Josh?

Josh: 01:35 Uh, I’m Josh Biggley. I am a tech ops strategy consultant at NewRelic. Yay. You can find me on the Twitters @Jbiggley. You can also find me on LinkedIn @jbiggley. I don’t have any other social media. Also Yay. Um, I am a post Mormon and as of a few weeks ago officially ex-Mormon

Leon: 01:55 I still am not sure whether I’m supposed to say congratulations about that or not.

Josh: 01:59 In my case. Yes. Congratulations.

Leon: 02:01 Okay, great. Uh, and I’m Leon Adato. I’m a head geek at SolarWinds. SolarWinds is neither solar nor wind. It’s a monitoring vendor. You can find me on the Twitters @LeonAdato. I pontificate on all things technical and sometimes religious at and I identify as an Orthodox Jew. So before we dive into the solution, meaning how do we find ways to be more grateful or experience more gratitude in our technical lives? I want to elaborate on the problem that we’re trying to solve a little bit because we’re in IT and that’s what we do best.

Doug: 02:37 Start with the problem.

New Speaker: 02:39 Yeah, let’s, let’s get our scope and then we’ll go to the rest. So what is it about working in IT that causes that kind of frustration that I described or causes those moments of frustration to so frequently? Like what are the things that that keep dragging us down?

Josh: 02:54 Scope creep. I mean you just talked about scope, right? Oh yeah.

Doug: 02:58 Before we go ahead and I want to actually add something to this topic. Okay. I’m just kidding. (laughter) It’s just like that, that scope creep people. Again, partial solutions, that’s where we think we’ve got it. We have 80% of it done. It turns out we don’t have the 20% that’s important, but we’ve got the 80% done.

Leon: 03:21 Right. The 80% that was really easy. And we got done on the first couple of days and then we’ve been slogging through the rest of it to get the 20th yeah, exactly. Um, I also want to talk about technical debt. It’s just a concept that I, I love, I don’t love technical debt. I just love the concept of it. It’s a great way of describing it. But as it professionals, I think we are the ones who uncover it and then frequently are asked to just ignore it or cover it back up again. But we know it’s going to bite us. We know that we’ve got to deal with it. And I think that that can become frustrating either knowing I have to deal with this and it wasn’t on my list of things to do or knowing that it’s still lurking out there waiting to rear its ugly head.

Doug: 04:00 Right. Or even worse when you’re developer doing that, I’ve got to get this thing done. I’ve got to get it in this amount of time. And I’m going to create new technical debt cause I can’t, I don’t have time to actually do this right. Because there may not be time to do it over. Oh, there’s never time to do it. Right. But there’s always time to do it over. Gee, that never seems to happen.

Leon: 04:16 Yeah. You never do it over and there’s always times you do it wrong though.

Doug: 04:19 Exactly. Well there is, I mean, you know, sometimes you just know in any case I did. It’s frustrating. There was, it’s what we’re talking about here. Right? Frustration. Right. So there you are.

Josh: 04:31 I think one of the most soul crushing parts about technical debt, whether you’ve uncovered it or whether you are the one who is unfortunately having to put it in place is when you know that you have found or you’re building technical debt, you take it out to your team or to the larger organization and nobody gives a damn. Yeah, okay. Technical debt’s a reality. It’s, there are scenarios where you’re building something and you have to build an implement today even though you know, six months from now, something’s going to change. That’s going to make the thing you’re doing obsolete. But the fact that nobody cares to talk about it again in six months, that that will open up your, your heart, it will reach in and pull your soul out and squish it and,

Leon: 05:21 What a visceral example.

Doug: 05:23 I was going to say. I wish I thought you were exaggerating, but I know you’re not. You know, as the CTO, my team… And I work with my team on this all the time. It’s like we go through the process without, you know, make it work, make it right, make it fast. And we do it in that order. I mean, we did, it’s like we just tried to get it to work and we know we’re probably, we do our best not to create a technical that while we’re making it work, but sometimes you just got to get that sucker out there and then we, we always try to come back to the, “make it right” part and, and, and so I’m not your CTO, Josh, but trust me, if I, we would be, we would care about that technical debt.

Josh: 06:01 Aw, I feel so loved.

Leon: 06:02 I will say that the dev ops culture, if, if there’s anything that, that, uh, can be lauded about the DevOps culture, it’s raising the awareness of technical debt and also, um, raising new ways to approach and address it, you know, that the business will understand. But, okay. So another point that I think frustrates us is, you know, when, when you’re working on something and especially in a hardware and operating system realm, this seems to come up, but something that goes wrong that according to the vendor or the owner, “well that’s never happened before. “

Doug: 06:38 Right? Right. Yeah, “it works on my machine.

Leon: 06:42 “Works for me.” Right. There’s a great episode recently, this past week, um, at least as we record this from “Screaming in the Cloud,” Corey Quinn, one of Corey Quinn’s podcasts where he’s talking about… Talking with the founders of Oxide, (which is a great name for a company by the way.) And they, they build sort of a prebuilt, um, rack based solutions. And they said one of their biggest frustrations is working with, with server vendors and being the only one who is having this problem with a GBIC or with memory modules dying too quickly or whatever it was. And they were at a conference talking about their solution and they brought that idea up and they said, you know, “nobody’s had this problem” where or whatever, and 17 hands went up and it wasn’t the 17 hands that went up of people who all had the problem that the vendors swore up and down the wall no one’s ever had. It was as the hands were going up and 17 people were becoming simultaneously infuriated that they realized they weren’t the only one having the problem. This was the first moment that they knew it. So that was, you know, again, that’s, that’s really just, it just again, sucks, sucks your soul right out.

Josh: 07:56 I mean, I’ll say the worst thing you can do and probably want to this, this same idea, the worst thing that you can do as a service provider is bullshit the people that are paying you for their service. Don’t do it. Just don’t do it cause they’re gonna. They’re going to have that moment where they stand in a crowd with 17 other people that are like, “Oh my goodness, I am not the only one.” And they’re going to, they’re going to get really pissed off.

Doug: 08:22 All right. And they’re going to be at a conference where they can go talk to your competitors. Some of my worst moments were a fat fingering on a production server. I’ve only done it. I know, I know. I know. But sometimes there you are. I mean, one case, you know, I thought I wason one server, I was on a different server. I wiped out a database. What fun. You know, I don’t do these things. Another time I thought it was not on the production server and I was cleaning things up while I was on the production server and the thing that I cleaned up made it stop working and that’ll, that’s an instant depression.

Leon: 08:57 Been there, done that.

Josh: 08:58 Yup. Yeah. Copy paste from the internet bad. Uh, don’t, don’t do it.

Leon: 09:04 I will say right now, quotes are never your friend. When you copy paste it, there’s, there’s one, there’s just one that’s a smart quote and it’s going to screw up everything.

Josh: 09:13 Yeah. I’ll also say that the reality is every engineer makes mistakes and the absolute worst thing you can do as an engineer is shame. Other engineers, I don’t care if you, if you knew how to solve this problem, the moment you know, you sprung forth from your parents’ loins. It doesn’t matter. You don’t shame other engineers. Nobody learns by being shamed.

Leon: 09:41 One of the best things that I saw come out of, um, last year, 2019 with, uh, one of the Facebook crashes was in the middle of the crash. It was the, the 24 hour crash or, or whatever it was. It went on for a while and somebody said, “Can we all just understand that right now the Facebook SRS are going through hell and that when we are, when we are armchair quarterbacking, what might be wrong or whatever. We can hold off on the, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t do blah, blah,’ like we have all been there and it sucks. And although we have our own feelings about Facebook as a company, these engineers right now are not having a good time and let’s just be a little supportive of them.”

Josh: 10:26 I am nodding emphatically.

Doug: 10:28 Yep. The best thing that I ever learned as a senior engineer was basically how to go ahead and make my juniors feel better about the screw ups because… No, I’m serious. I mean the, the whole job of a senior engineer other than being good at what you do is to go ahead and make juniors into seniors and the only way to get a junior to be a senior is to make him not be so afraid to fail that he can’t succeed. It’s something that I’m good at. I mean, that’s one of the few things that I’ve learned how to do over the years. I used to, used to be terrible at being good to other people, but over the years I’ve screwed up enough to be able to say to anybody now, “Hi, I’ve screwed up so much. You have no idea how many years you’re going to have to work to even come close to screwing up as bad as I have.” And as a result, you can make them feel better about what they’re doing and become better engineers.

Leon: 11:14 So Yechiel Kalmenson, another voice that that we’ve had on a few times, took a run at the concept of a 10x engineer. He said, the only valid version of a 10x engineer is an engineer who builds up the engineers around him until they are 10 other people who are just as good as he is.

Doug: 11:31 Yup. That’s a 10 X.

Leon: 11:33 So what we’ve started to do is roll into the ways that we can create a habit of gratitude and thankfulness and positivity because we recognize as we just went over it. There’s a lot of reasons to, you know, walk home, you know, walk to our car at the end of the day just feeling like garbage. Let’s talk ways that, that from our professional point of view, I mean we’ve got, you know, we’ve got close to a hundred years of experience, sorry, but we have almost a hundred years of experience on this podcast right now.

Josh: 12:05 You guys are old!

Leon: 12:05 …but right, exactly. It’s just me and Doug. That’s where we’re carrying the load on that one. So what are some ways from both our professional and also our religious point of view that allow people to build a sense of gratitude about what they do? Because really, at the end of the day, I know that for 30 years I love working in IT. I really enjoy it. You know, I am excited to go to work every day (Most days.) I enjoy the things that I’m able to accomplish. And part of it is that I have a really cool job and all that stuff. But part of it is that I think you have to build the habit of finding those moments that you enjoy because that’s what you hold onto. Um, and some of that, just, just to kick it off, is recognizing a success for what it is. I think in it, going back to my intro to this episode, that if you look at it as vast stretches of depression and frustration punctuated by very brief moments of excitement, and then going back to the salt mines, you’re not going to be able to maintain a career – a happy career because the, the joy is so brief and the, the non joy is so long lived. I think we have to recognize successes whenever they occur and take a moment and, and appreciate those. You know, when we were little kids it was really clear. Like I spelled my name right, I tied my shoes, I put my pants on, not backward. I, you know, like whatever. Now, the bar’s raised a slightly for some of us, uh, before the show started we were talking about why pants might or might not be necessary, you know, at work. Beyond coming to work dressed appropriately. I think there are moments when we need to recognize that that was really a success. You know, sometimes just getting the config change and not breaking that router, that is a success.

Doug: 13:56 There’s a whole way of doing dev now that actually gives you that the whole test driven development. Basically you, you, you go ahead and build a test that fails, and then you write code to make that test succeed. And so you actually are giving yourself a whole series of successes during the day. And when you get that little green light that’s, you know, that’s actually building successes in your days. Now you can’t get up and go home after every green bar. But the reality is you can, you can at least get us, you can get smiles throughout the day that you wouldn’t get otherwise.

Leon: 14:28 Right? And, and my point is to take a longer moment to bask in that, just to appreciate that green dot. Just to take a moment and appreciate. Don’t just like, “All right, finally, that one’s done. Next!” No, take a second. Joss Whedon talked about his process as a writer and he said, I am. I’m like a little monkey. Like I am very reward driven. I wrote one good line of dialogue, have a cookie. Like he says, I do my best writing in a cafe for particularly a dessert cafe because I will go get another slice of chocolate cake. It’s not good for my waist, but it is very good for, you know, like I am happy. Yay. I wrote another paragraph. So however you do it, take a longer moment to recognize that success.

Josh: 15:15 I like to think to our success is that we enjoy the things that, that we need to spend time, um, pondering on. They don’t have to be the same for everyone. Look for Joss Whedon. Maybe writing that paragraph is, that’s a moment of joy for him. Leon, I happened to know that you can churn out a ridiculous amount of, uh, writing in a very short period of time. And so for you, a paragraph is like, “Okay, I just exercise my keyboard for 30 seconds, you know, let’s crank this bad boy up to Mach speed.” The reality is sometimes, and we talked a couple of episodes ago and then we talked in our wrap up episode last week about, you know, my admission that I suffer from depression sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning and I work from home like, like both of you. So pants are often optional, but just getting out of bed in the morning and sitting down in front of, um, my, my laptop, that can be a win and we need, we need to recognize how powerful that is. And when we look around the world and we’re, and we say to ourselves, “Well, I haven’t accomplished X, Y, or Z,” or “I haven’t done the things that, you know, my brother, my sister, my father, my best friend, some random person on Instagram,” (which is why I’m not an Instagram or Facebook) that will sap us of the gratitude that, as a friend of mine who is, uh, in his eighties says, “I sat up and took nourishment today. It’s a good day.” And he’s been saying that for decades. It’s not because he’s in his eighties, he’s remarkably spry for being in his eighties. But for him it’s, “I sat up, I put food in my mouth. It’s a good day.”

Leon: 17:03 So again, just to circle back, I think that having that childlike, not childish sense of accomplishment, uh, Josh, to your point that you need to know where you are. You know, accomplishment for me is not the accomplishment for my siblings. Especially when you have different aged kids. You know, some can reach the top of the shelf and some, you know, need to get a step stool or whatever it is. But, uh, I think our accomplishments are the same way. Um, my, one of my bosses, Tiffany Nels is a famous around the office for saying “compare and despair”. There’s a video that was one of the inspiration pieces for this episode and it said that that social media is a big driver for people’s sense of dissatisfaction. Uh, there’s been studies that demonstrate that after 15 minutes of being on social media, people are measurably less happy about their lives. Now, I’m not saying everyone bail on Facebook, (although there’s a lot of IT security reasons to bail on Facebook), but maybe remember that. And again, in the sense of having gratitude, maybe control limit, uh, put into context the amount of social media you consume and how you allow it to influence your life. Um, and also when other people at the office are getting things done, remember that their to do list is not your to do list. Your to do list, maybe get up, get to the keyboard, right? A couple of good emails and that that was your list for the day. That’s, that’s an accomplishment.

Josh: 18:40 I have also really grateful when my coworkers are accomplishing really awesome things when, when, when they’ve hit their stride, I’m grateful we work together. There is not a competition. It’s not about, you know, whether dog or Leon, whether you’re doing more than I am. We’re on this team together and if you’re killing it and I’m having a really rough day executing it, that’s okay. It’s why we’re not independent contractors. It’s why we don’t work as long walls. And even, I mean, the reality is even if you are an independent contractor, you’re working with a team that’s not you. Uh, this whole idea that there, and we’ve talked about this before on this, on this podcast, there is no rock star individual. There is no individual who you can hire and bring into your environment that is going to save your company. If you’re looking for that person, your company was probably in trouble already.

Doug: 19:43 You’re done.

Leon: 19:43 Yeah. Yeah. There’s other bigger problems to to fix.

Josh: 19:46 I just, I want to call out as well that Doug and I, we had this, we have a shared history here since we both come from a Christian backgrounds in Matthew 18 and the Bible, and I’m going to quote the King James version because that’s the version I grew up with. It says, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same as the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And Leon, that ties back to your very first comments when we’re trying to figure out how to be grateful, how to be thankful is kids are, they are just overjoyed with the little things in life. You know how many times as a kid, and I remember doing this, you’re laying on the grass on a warm summer day and you’re like, this is good, and you’ll look up and you’d like see clouds. You’re like, Oh my goodness. That one looks like a rhinoceros. Like you’re like, Oh, I saw a cloud. Or you find a four leaf clover, or you manage to ride your bike and not crash it. There’s so many things as a kid you’re just grateful for and take that for what it is. We really need to be like little children in our gratitude, have it be abundant.

Doug: 20:53 The thing is, you can go ahead and get some gratitude by, by comparing yourself, because I have people all the time. They’ll complain about their life and I’ll go, okay, let’s go to Wikipedia and let’s look at the annual income, uh, of most countries. And half of them are below $1,000 a year. And I’m going, okay, so how bad is your life? Again, look at what you’ve got here in most of the first world and just stop complaining.

Leon: 21:16 So again, in the video that that was the inspiration. They talked about people who have gone through some kind of trauma in the illness or an accident or whatever it is, and whose lives have returned to some form of normalcy after that event. And they’re having the exact same experiences. They’re eating breakfast and they’re reading a book, whatever. But the, that experience has completely transformed for them into one of gratitude because they know how tenuous it is. They know what it’s like to not have had that or not have been able to do it. And maybe even to think that they were never going to have that experience again and now they’re having it. So again, same coffee, same cereal in the bowl, but a completely different thing. How much better would it be if we could contextualize that and say, wow, you know, it doesn’t have to be like this. That, that for many of us, uh, the experiences that we’re having are largely based on the zip code to which we were born. And you know, that’s, that’s why I’m here and just be, be grateful for it. I, I also think so there’s a fairly famous story that goes around and, and I’ve heard the Jewish version of it, um, the story goes quickly like this.

Leon: 22:34 “There was a queen who went to her counselors asking for a piece of wisdom. She said that she needed something, a phrase or an idea that was short, so short, that could be inscribed on a ring that would keep her humble in times of success, but also that same phrase would, uh, give her hope in times of trouble or, or sorrow. And so the scholars who worked for her came back after some thought and they gave her the phrase ‘gam ze yaavo’, which is Hebrew for ‘This, too, shall pass.’ “

Leon: 23:10 Now, when you hear that story frequently, your first dot goes to the bat, right? Oh, something’s really, really bad. But this too shall pass. It’s only a minute. The hard drive crash. But trust me, next week this will be a distant memory. You’re going to laugh about it, Leon. It’s going to be okay. But I want to point out that equally true is that if something is going well, this phrase, this too shall pass not to, not to rain on your parade as a, well, you know, you think it’s good now, but tomorrow is going to be crap again. No. Is that appreciate it while it’s here, it’s not going to be here forever. This is going to pass, so appreciate every moment of it that you have it.

Doug: 23:50 There is so much that’s a femoral in all of the highs or the lows. I mean a lot of it’s kind of right in the middle and the, there’s all kinds of studies that show that if things go really great after a little while they won’t seem that great. Even if they’re just as great as they were, they won’t even seem that great anymore. So you need to go ahead and appreciate those moments when they happen both behind the low for that matter. I mean it did it even at the lows, you’re feeling something.

Leon: 24:16 Working in it in, in enterprises and really any business we can get caught up in the business mantra of, you know, “higher, better, faster, stronger. Next quarter has to be better than this one…”And I think that that’s an unhealthy thing. It’s healthy for the company. Obviously the company should always be on a growth, you know, a growth plan. But for IT, I think doing just as well today as you did yesterday is fan freaking tastic. And that if you do just as well tomorrow as you did today as you did yesterday as you did last week, still a win. Still totally 100% in the win column.

Doug: 24:59 We’re keeping the joint running.

Leon: 25:01 Yes, exactly.

Josh: 25:02 I am going to call out the, within religion there is a potentially toxic idea that you must always be progressing and that that continuous progression is the only thing that separates you from falling behind everybody else. It’s that idea that everyone else around you is improving. If you’re not improving, if you’re not getting better every single day, then you’re actually falling behind. You cannot stand stand still, and I’ve heard this many times, “if you are standing still, you are actually falling behind.” Let’s be honest, that in the game of life you are not competing against anybody else. It is you against you. It’s who you are now versus who you were yesterday and who you want to be tomorrow. That’s it. And have it doesn’t matter how many toys do you have? It doesn’t matter how many friends do you have. It doesn’t matter. Okay. Maybe if they’re really cool toys.. (laughter) No, no, it does not matter how many toys you have. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is your competition against yourself. And once we set all of this ridiculous competition, and I am not a competitive person, I really, I make a great socialist. I really do. I yay Canada. Um, because I, I’m just, I’m not competitive. Once we set all of that aside, then we can get into some of the things that I think are really important around our authenticity to each other in the engagements that we have. And then we start doing things not because we’re getting some sort of intrinsic reward or maybe we are getting an intrinsic reward, but we don’t recognize it. We’re, we’re doing things because it makes other people feel better. And making other people feel better, helps us feel better. And that to me is how we show that, that real gratitude. So just want to call out that some people in religious context really take this whole, “I have to be better. Um, because if I’m not, if I’m not better, if I’m not making greater sacrifices, if I’m not doing whatever thing it is that your religion says you should do, then somehow I’m a bad person.” That’s just toxic.

Leon: 27:11 Trying to take the concept of sins, which is a, uh, it can be very weird depending on your religious or ethical background, but saying, “well, I sinned. I failed on this and therefore I am points down” treating observance as a zero sum game. I’m 50 points up. I’m 25 points behind is really unhealthy. The Jewish idea is that your experience of that, your free will, your struggle is at a point, a particular point. And that’s where your struggle is. And the comment from one of the really great rabbis of, of our time, Akiva Tatz where he talks about, you know, “do you remember this morning where you woke up and you really struggled with yourself not to go out on the street and mug an old lady and steal her purse?”

Josh: 28:00 I do.

Leon: 28:01 Yeah. No, you’re Canadian. I know for many of us that doesn’t even enter into our mind. So did we exercise free will in choosing not to mug an old lady and steal their purse? Of course we didn’t. It’s that, it’s not even on the table. It’s not even the list of things. That our point of like if you want to say the word sin or, or observance or whatever is wherever we’re struggling. And that’s a very personal thing. And it’s again, not points up points behind. It’s “how am I doing in that one area, in that area that I struggle with today?” Hopefully you are moving the bar up, but in the same way that I don’t count my exercise regimen against Lance Armstrong (because I would be dead if I tried to keep up), I can’t count myself against anyone else. Again, back to, you know, Tiffany Nels compare and despair.

Doug: 28:54 Evangelical Christianity does the same thing when it, when it does it right in that there are sins and you acknowledge your sin and then you’re forgiving of it and you move on and improve. Now, unfortunately in the toxic area of evangelical Christianity, as Josh notes, uh, we point out YOUR sins. And your sins are worse than my sin. So therefore you’re really, really bad. And I’m just saying it’s, it’s, it’s like when Christianity, real Christianity and I’m, you know, says it they’re your sins and you deal with them and, and it gives you a way to go ahead and work, work through and become a better person. But boy it’s your, it gets turned backwards an awful, awful lot of the times.

Josh: 29:37 I was, I was worried Doug, I thought you were reading my emails cause I just emailing Leon about your sins. I was a weird, there you go.

Doug: 29:47 And you accused Leon of writing too much stuff.

Leon: 29:51 We know you can’t listen to our podcast all day. So out of respect for your time, we’ve broken this particular conversation up. Come back next week and we’ll continue our conversation.

Josh: 30:01 Thanks for making time for us this week to hear more of Technically Religious visit our website, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect with us on social media.

Speaker 1: 30:15 To quote Jacques Maritain “Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.”

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