Thursday, December 07, 2006

Showing Kindness

A few years back, I was traveling cross country, and stopped one morning at a busy McDonald's for breakfast. I patiently waited in line as the woman in front of me ordered 10 different breakfasts that day. At the end of the order, the person working behind the counter asked if the order would be "for here or to go", and in an unnecessarily sarcastic and condescending tone, the woman in front of me said that her order would be to go, of course. Did it look like she could eat all of those orders by herself? In response, the McDonald's worker shrugged her shoulders and replied: "Lady, I don't know you! I don't know your life! Next!" Taken off guard, the woman in front of me stepped aside, and I very politely placed my single go.

There have been many moments since that I've looked back on that McDonald's worker and thought that she was absolutely right. She didn't know that woman's life, and as a result of this, she made no judgement or no inference about whatsoever. She was just doing her job. Beyond the hilarity of the exchange, the lesson I took from it was that the worker was right. She cast absolutely no judgement. You can't look at someone and think that you know their life. If only we could all be this honest.

Not too long ago, I was in a local drugstore and bought several small items on sale. The worker behind the counter wasn't paying attention to what she was doing, and she scanned some items more than once. I watched her do it. I silently kept a mental tally of what I was being overcharged for. Before she could finish ringing up the bill, I told her that I believed that she had charged me more for several items. In fact, I told her the precise amount that she had overcharged me. She immediately denied that she had done this. She didn't want to admit fault. Rather than make her feel small for this, I gently asked if she wouldn't mind just checking the receipt for me. I watched her waffle over the bill, and could tell that she had a hard time with numbers. I didn't know her. I didn't know her life. I wasn't going to pay double(and triple) for anything, but I also wasn't going to lose my patience over a something so small. Eventually, she worked it out and apologized for the confusion. She also thanked me for being so patient while she did this. What was I going to do? Scream at her in front of a line of customers and demand that she call her boss so that I can tell him what an idiot she is while she stands there feeling like a child? Should I then rub it in her face that my IQ and educational opportunities are superior to hers and that I did the math on the receipt upside down while she struggled with it in front of her? What would this accomplish? She corrected her mistake. All was well. I told her to have a good day. I didn't know her life, but I hoped for the best for her. Next.

The thing is that there is no perfect knowledge in this world. What really goes on in the inner worlds of the people around us is something beyond our reach, and it's never safe to assume that we know anything in this regard. Rather than make erroneous assumptions, we must make it our jobs to assume that we know nothing. At the very least, I try to assume the best. I don't know the intimate inner workings of anyone out there, but I simply try to follow the logic that most of the time, if given the opportunity, most people are capable of being decent and good. Most of the time, people are eager to offer their services, knowledge, assistance or expertise. Giving someone the space to show that they are good at something is important. Being open to learning something from a stranger is just as important, too. I don't need to know their lives. I just need to give them the space to shine in one brief moment, if only for me, a stranger, and nothing more. Next. This is the simple reason why I make it a point to always look the person who bags my groceries in the eye and say "thank you for your help." It's that simple. Don't treat people as invisible or dispensable commodities. Don't impart on anyone your self-concocted notion of who they are, or who you think they should be. Treat people as intrinsic bastions of worth and substance by simply saying "thank you". It makes life a little easier for them and for you. Next.

Not too long ago, a former coworker of mine expressed his discontent with the content of my blog and writing style. He was a religious reader of mine, but never once sought me out to openly discuss what I wrote about. Instead, he preferred (as he put it) to be "behind the scenes". Some people would call him a troll or a lurker for this. To me, at least, the behavior was a little odd. Nevertheless, due to his ostensible trolling of the internet, he made it his self-appointed mission at one point to "bring me down". According him, my writing was something he "couldn't handle", and he disliked the fact that I wrote a few snarky diatribes here and there about certain on-going issues in my realm. For some reason, it seemed that he took a lot of what I wrote either literally or personally, even though I never once wrote about him. More than this, he failed to understand or see nuance, irony or simple sarcasm, let alone comprehend the basic idea that a blog is a creative outlet, and not necessarily a truth or fact forum. For him, the creative license I took in my blog was an abomination. He once even told me that he disapproved of the fact that I engaged a "right wing" Republican in my comments forum. What I found ironic was that he was so intrigued by what I wrote, returned to read me every day on his own accord, and yet secretly, he hated my guts. And he didn' Next.

I stopped blogging for a while as a result of this impasse. It was alarming to me that someone was capable of having that much misguided anger at the world, and that I could somehow be the target of this machine of bad energy. Of course, it was only a matter of time until I started blogging again, and similarly only a matter of time before he resumed reading. Interestingly enough, despite his venom, he remains a religious reader today. From time to time on his Macintosh operating system in Charlottesville, Virginia, from his Safari 2.0 browser, he will leave terrible, judging "anonymous" comments when he feels the need to let his festering negativity bubble over. One of his signature techniques is to focus on my shallowness, even when his knee-jerk responses are superficial, at best. Never once has he ever stepped up to create an identity and leave a positive or encouraging message. Isn't it funny what the internet gives us license to do?

Of course, I don't know him. I don't know his life. And, although he may think so, he doesn't know me. I would love to give him the opportunity to use his voice and say something positive, but I can only encourage this. He has the freedom to do what he will, as I have the freedom to express myself as I want. But I can say that I know that he keeps an eye on me here. And I'm flattered. And, don't worry, dear, I have my eye on you, too. At the very least, I hope I've made you feel more comfortable at home lurking here than you made me feel last year. At the very least, I wish you all the best.



Anonymous said...

Well written, well thought.

I-66 said...

Bunch of haters out there I tell ya.

Jamy said...

Oh, I hear you.

What I love are the folks who get angry at me because I don't take their advice--because I answer their cruel words in a "snippy" manner. It is a shock to them that I respond more favorably to supportive comments than to their unkind words.

I do wonder why people who seem to hold me in contempt even bother to leave comments. These are invariably folks who have never met me.

I guess we can only be flattered that what we write is so engaging that even those who hate what we say can't tear themselves away.

Keep up the good work and words!

Anonymous said...

We all need more kindness in the world. And some are more deserving of grace than others. If they're relations or loved one's we should make certain allowances for them. It's the random A-holes and truly careless buggers that ruin an entire day if you let them. Still there's plenty of folks I would not mind seeing 'brought down'. Most don't blog. One will be retired by next week, but the wholesale disaster he wrought we'll be living with and trying to clean up for a generation hence. Would that his nickname was as cheery as his last service post. We won't miss Rummy. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

E. Morena said...

This is the first time I read your blog, and your latest post really touched me. In a period of my life where I've felt insanely alone, the realization that you don't know another's life or situation somehow has made me feel not quite so solitary. Sounds odd, I know. But maybe there is someone out there who feels what I feel.