So. When I was younger I moved to Seattle, Washington from Springfield, Missouri in the hopes of changing my surroundings and exploring options outside of the Midwest. I ended up living in a shared housing situation and working at a 7-11 in the University District.
It was a great setup because I could see my job from my room and everything I needed was within walking distance. I worked the graveyard shift, which was a fantastic baptism in fire regarding human nature and the hidden world of the U District after the sun goes away. But I digress.
One day, after the third or fourth rude customer had come in and aggressively demanded cigarettes or twenty-ounce beers with no “hello,” or “thank you,” I made a pact with myself; The next person that came in and didn’t say hello or thank you would get my coldest shoulder. They would rue the day they decided to treat me like I was non-existent. Well, it didn’t take long before someone came in to fill the position.
I heard the ringing of the bell that meant a customer was entering the establishment (the same ringing that I would hear in my dreams long after I stopped working for 7-11), and I turned and said “hello” to the gentleman coming in. Nothing. No acknowledgment, no response.
Well, here we go, I thought. It was a little cold outside, so we all had long sleeved shirts and jackets against the wind and perpetual mist of Seattle in the fall. The coldness of the people seemed to echo the chill of the Seattle night.
The man made a B-line to the beer section and picked out a few twenty-ounce beers, then sauntered up to the counter where I stood steely-gazed and tight-lipped. He placed his drinks down and I asked, “will that be all?”
Without saying a word, he reached across and pointed up at some Marlboro light cigarettes that were behind the counter. I was now furious. I purposely pointed to another pack and asked, “these ones?” He pointed to his smokes again and I pointed to another pack. “These?”
Much to my delight, he appeared flustered and pointed again to his pack. I exhaled sharply and tossed his pack down on the counter. He handed me a twenty dollar bill and I scattered his change on the counter between us, staring at him to make him understand my complete contempt for his behavior.
He gathered the change into his hand and slid it into his pocket. With his other hand, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an electrolarynx. He pulled down the collar of his shirt and placed it up to his throat and his kindest, electronic-vibration-box voice said, “thank you, have a good night.”
WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY NEXT POINT…
In case the lesson wasn’t clear.
I was immediately deflated. I could see that it was uncomfortable for him to use the device, and probably a little embarrassing, as well. I had channeled my ire onto a man who could not speak without a mechanical aid, and I had projected my pent-up frustrations onto him.
He had not deserved my anger, nor did he really warrant the response I’d given him. His lack of communication was physical and not emotional – and I had allowed myself to sully our interaction because others had hurt my pride.
When I feel that I have been wronged, or that somehow I am being treated unfairly, I think back on that interaction. How many times do we take out on individuals what we have internalized from others? Each of us has the opportunity to change our situations by simply choosing to act as we should, not as a reaction against perceived mistreatment. Who knows? Maybe our kind gestures in the face of rudeness or indifference will be the catalyst for change? Maybe we are the ones that will stop the cycle of subtle aggression that seems to easily spread from person to person?
All in all, we don’t know what others are going through. Our troubles may be miniscule in comparison. Compassion and empathy are things that are cultivated within in order to be expressed without.