Not too long ago, I discovered that an elderly couple I wait on on a weekly basis had written in to the local paper to laud the service that I provide for them. It was nice to be recognized, but the basis of the recognition gave me pause.
Here's the scenario. I work for a large bookstore in an affluent town, with a college nearby. We have a good college crowd, but the vast majority of people I assist are retired. We have a huge retirement community. So, I'm there, week after week, and I notice that one regular elderly couple comes in every Friday morning and spends a few hours browsing and generally hanging out. They buy coffee and usually buy a book or magazine.
Well, when they show up, the wife pulls the car up to the curb and lets her husband (with walker) out. He stands with the walker and waits while she parks. Then she assists him getting into the store, gets our courtesy wheelchair for him, and parks the walker at customer service. This happens every Friday, without fail. I am there every week.
So, at some point, when I see her show up and let him out at the curb, I walk to the corner where we park the courtesy wheelchair and wheel it to the door. I set the brakes and lift the shopping basket, so that when he enters the store, they can immediately allow him to sit and enjoy his visit. To me, it seems like a small courtesy, extended to loyal customers as a matter of course and caring.
But it seems that this has been a routine for them since long before I got there, and I'm the only person who has ever extended this courtesy to them. In short, I am the first person who has ever noticed that they might need assistance entering the store.
While I appreciate their appreciation of this small kindness I show them, I am incensed that it seems to be so unusual. To me, and the way I was raised, when someone needs help, and you are in a position to offer it, you help them. Just because you all share the same planet and the same species.
I wish that this were just an isolated incident, that I wasn't being singled out for praise on other occasions for what I consider to be, a) my job, and b) common courtesy.
I bother to learn my customers' names. When I see the same person, day in and day out, share the weather and other minor concerns with them, I try to learn their names. I can easily learn their names via their membership cards, credit cards, special orders and the like. So when I see someone over and over, I say, "Hi, Mr. Smith! It's a cold one out there."
And people continue to be impressed by that. When did we stop noticing the people that we see every day? When did we stop caring about who they are and why we continue to see them? When did we stop giving good customer service in a personal way?
I've had shrinks who have told me that holding doors for people was enabling. I've had "experts" tell me that we need to quit caring about our fellow man and care more about ourselves.
I disagree. I think we can do both. I think we can care for, and assist our fellow human beings while still caring about our own personal circumstances. I think we can still extend a kindly, helpful hand to others, it costs us nothing. I think we can still have a kind word to say, or make an extra effort to help a person achieve their personal daily goal. I think we can still learn a person's name. We may not be best friends, but we can be partners in our community.
When we fail to recognize those who share our environment, how can we pretend to care about the global community? If we fail to extend small personal courtesies to those around us who need it, how can we pretend to care about anyone but ourselves?
I have a better understanding of the "random acts of kindness" bumpersticker these days. Be kind to your fellow man. Practice common courtesy. It's not as common as you think.
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