I used to complain that Americans care more about propriety than piety. While I still believe that’s true a degree -we love our euphemisms, after all- I’m beginning to wane in my resolve on that issue. It is becoming increasingly clear that people believe they must inflict everything they are feeling onto others, lest they be somehow inauthentic.
There are times and places where it is best to exercise emotional restraint. Most times, I would argue. It is a part of our duty to love our fellow man and do unto them as we would have them do unto us.We had an experience this week that drove home to me how little we appreciate the ways our behavior affects those we come into contact with long after we have forgotten the myriad of little interactions with people we run into throughout the day.
Most of our Christmas shopping was done online but there were a few last minute things the Benevolent Dictator and I had to run out and take care of in the evenings after he got off work. We were in a shoe store of all places when this bit of wisdom was demonstrated to me.My husband has preferences and opinions about sneakers while I do not, so he ran point on that particular gift hunt.
While I was wandering around looking at other kinds of shoes, my husband was assisted by two young women who worked in the store, looking for the right sizes of the styles he had chosen. It was very close to closing time, the store was fairly quiet, and it was clear that the three of them were having a good time. My husband is usually having a good time if he’s not engrossed in some kind of work.
He picked the sneakers, we went to check out, and one of the women came up and said to the cashier, “Take $10 off the price of the second pair. These are the first people who have been nice to me all day.” She looked at my husband, her blue eyes misty and said “Thank you for being so pleasant to work with.”
I was very thankful for her -and for my husband- because I was quite tired and not at all ebullient. My husband was tired as well, making his behavior all the more extraordinary. More than that however I was saddened that this young woman, three days before Christmas, had been subjected to rude, impolite shoppers all day long.
I’m not exactly brimming with Christmas cheer this year, but I at least try to be polite. There is no reason why a stranger just doing his or her job should be subjected to my unique combination of fatigue, irritation and grief simply for choosing to show up to work in a store where I happen to be shopping.
No matter what you’re dealing with, remember to do unto others as you have them to do unto you. The lesson:
It costs you nothing to be polite. Surliness unduly punishes others and robs you of the chance to impart kindness in spite of your personal struggles.