Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sting of Truth

Over at Genkaku-again, Adam Genkaku Fisher has a great post on honesty, niceness, and the stories we make up about others we perceive as "savior" figures. What struck me most was the following:

But who is it who says that Jesus or some other guru has to be nice in my terms? Who is it who imagines that kindness only resides in a "yes?"

I appreciate the willingness to go beyond commonplace views and really ask how much of our longing for compassion, and for people to just be nice, is simply what we want to happen. I've noticed how I get upset sometimes when people working behind counters at coffee shops or restaurants feel cold or irritated. What's interesting about this is that even though I do not subscribe to the view that people in customer service should always smile and be nice, there's still a piece of me that sometimes takes personally the cranky remark or flat affect of those same folks. What it comes down to is that I don't want the inconvenience of their pain coming into my life, or on that particular day, my own suffering is already enough, and I see theirs as simply an addition that I better shut down or marginalize before it pushes me over the edge. This is all story driving me. That customer service people should at least try to keep it together. That I can't handle a few minutes of crankiness or less than friendly service. It's all story. And entitlement as well. Who said we deserve to get a smile and friendly service from every minimum wage clerk in the country? Why are we so willing to reduce our fellow humans into simply means of exchange that better behave accordingly?

When you start to see the pervasiveness of this, there is a sting to it. It's not pleasant, and yet, without this awareness, there will never be awakening.


Jennifer Campaniolo said...

This is a really interesting idea, I had never thought of other people's kindness to me in quite this way before. I also take it personally when retail and food service workers are unfriendly with me. I want a positive shopping experience! Even when I know I'm being flattered by a salesperson, I still like it! It can really sour your mood when someone who's supposed to be helping you is nasty or uninterested.

I worked in retail from age 17-22 and so I should know what it's like to deal with the public all day. You start off trying to be friendly, but usually by the end of the day (or after dealing with one evil customer) you don't feel so cheery. And it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your next customer--they just bear the brunt of it.

Thanks for showing me a new way of thinking about kindness.

spldbch said...

Very true -- I can't tell you how many times I've thought, "Well if he doesn't like his job he should do something else" when a cashier was less than friendly to me. I will have to work on being a little more understanding.

NellaLou said...

"I don't want the inconvenience of their pain coming into my life,"

This is one of the most truthful statements I've ever encountered. Good on you for having the courage to both realize that and put it out there.

This thought is one of the biggest obstacles to compassion that there is.

Nathan said...

I also worked in retail during high school and into college a bit. It's really easy to turn sour or indifferent, for a variety of reasons. I try to remember those days when I can, reminding myself of the overbearing boss, the pressure to be friendly and sell, and the various co-worker issues you couldn't avoid in a customer service environment.