I just had an illuminating experience.
I went to the grocery store to buy some unhealthy study-snacks to keep me awake long enough to hopefully not fail my final tomorrow. I admit, it was more or less just an attempt at procrastination, but, nonetheless, I had an agenda in mind and I was hoping to be in and out in less than 15 minutes. I ran in, went over to the chip isle, the candy isle, the little section where they sell lunchables, and finally the produce section. I was ready to go! Instead of heading over to the self-checkout like I usually would, I got in line with the regular, technologically-challenged people, so I could use a check. I’m poor, okay?
The woman at the front of the line was a small, older lady, who had about 10 items. She had a scowl on her face, and seemed like one of those somewhat awkward crazies who you might encounter in Wal Mart or something. The cashier started to ring her up, and right away you could tell there were going to be problems.
Her first coupon was expired. She made the cashier go get his manager to make sure it really was expired. It was. The next item was on sale, but didn’t ring up as on sale. Turned out she had to put in her Vons’ card number. The next few items went okay, but then she got distracted and forgot to keep her eye on the screen. So the entire line (of almost 15 people by now) waited while she went through every item individually with the cashier to make sure everything was on sale and she was getting the best price possible.
To make matters worse, the girl in front of me started up a conversation with this lady about some of their mutual food choices, further extending the entire process and making pretty much everyone in the line give a collective sigh and eye-roll.
After about 10 more minutes of this, the lady was finally gone. It was almost my turn! I just had to wait through Annoying Conversationalist Girl, and I would be on my way home to study (read: write a blog post). As he was ringing up ACG, the cashier turned to her and said “Thanks for talking to her [the old woman]. She’s a nice lady, she just gets focused on what she’s doing and can be a little intense. She’s a good person though.”
I was stunned. Here I had been, sitting in line thinking about how much I hated my life, how frustrated I was that I had to wait in line when I had better things to be doing, how annoying it was that this lady was arguing over every single penny, trying to get a deal, and yet the cashier, who actually had to DEAL with her, was thanking someone for talking to her. The entire time I was waiting in line, I was either thinking about how much I would hate to be that cashier, how annoyed he must be that she is making such a big fuss, or about how much I wanted to be home. I kept imagining if she were a customer where I work– how I would want to die or scream or charge her $100– and the stories I would tell to my coworkers later.
Never once did I think of the actual woman herself. She was obviously not well-off; she was a saver who had deliberately cut out coupons so that she could get the best deals, and she was doing her best to get her money’s worth. How could I judge her for that, when in fact, I was only standing in this line so that I wouldn’t have to pay for my food right away by using my debit card?
Never once did I think about the entire situation from her point of view. She must have shopped very carefully, only choosing the items for which she had coupons, and resisting all those impulse buys which had so easily sucked me in. It was probably embarrassing for her to have to hold up the entire line, and even more embarrassing that she would care so much about the cost of her groceries. She must have felt awkward, and you could tell she didn’t really like interacting with people. I bet going to the grocery store is an ordeal every single day for this lady.
At that moment, as hokey and cheesy as it sounds, I realized what a hypocrite I can be. I spend my entire life working with people, for people, and about people. I am obsessed with community development, youth leadership, empowering people, rights for the impoverished, etc etc etc. And yet, when it comes to actually interacting and dealing with the people for whom I am supposedly working… I am a total bitch. Why is it that, when I am in Latin America I am caring, compassionate, and empathetic for everyone I meet, and yet, waiting in line at the grocery store I could care less about others? Do people have a certain quota of niceness and compassion, and once it runs out for the year we just stop giving a f*ck and move on?
Which brings me to my quote for today: “Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are” –Author Unknown
I need to practice what I preach. I need to think of others. I need to understand that I am not the center of the world, just because I am the center of my world. I need to realize that every day is a journey, and every interaction is a memory. I need to accept the fact that everyone has bad days, even me, and often the only thing we can do about them is to be understanding. I need to see other people as actual living, breathing, other people, and not just as objects floating around me in space. I need to be realistic about the fact that there are certain people who I will hate, just as there are certain people that I will love (and a whole lot in between). Regardless, every single person deserves my respect, patience, and kindness.
And every single one of us deserves to have people fighting for us, whether they be our cashier at our local grocery store, our best friend, or even a stranger waiting with us in line.
Not only that, but every single one of us has the responsibility to fight for other people, whether they need our support or not. Especially those of us who base our entire existence on this principle…
So that’s my pledge. This is what I will be thinking about today, this week, hopefully my life. I’m sure it will take a lot of reminders, some negative interactions, and some extremely awkward conversations. But that’s okay with me, because it is who I am, who I want to be. No matter what happens, no matter who I become, no one can take away how I choose to interact with others. Try it out yourself! I’m not saying we can be perfect, I’m just saying we can be better.