Random Acts of Kindness
Our department has been engaging in random acts of kindness in honor of our dear friend Lynn, whom we lost this September. Sometimes, it is easier to be kind than others!
Several weeks ago, I was in the post office in my neighborhood. I walked in and found myself at the end of a long line that snaked its way up to the counter. There were 2 postal workers behind the counter: one on the far left side and one on the far right side. Though they were dressed just alike in those fashionable blue shirts, they could not have been more different! It did not take me long to figure out that, in disposition, they were as different as night and day, black and white, Prius and Hummer!
The postal worker on the right had a smile on her face and would say things like “It is my privilege to help you,” “You have a fabulous day now,” and “Let me show you some of the wonderful new stamp choices. You are going to love them!”
The postal worker on the left had a constant scowl, never looked at a customer, and did not completely finish with one customer before she was demanding that the next customer hurry up to the counter. She was curt, loud, and rude. She said things like “No, you can’t do that,” “What do you want?” and “Hurry, people are waiting!”
The room was completely quiet, except for the voices of these two women and the customers with whom they were interacting. I could actually see the tension in individuals as they got closer to the beginning of the line, hoping that they would get the lady on the right. When her customer finished and walked away, you could see a skip in the step of the next person in line as they approached her sweet, smiling face. They just won the post office lottery! The next person in line would sag a bit, realizing their likely fate!
As a psychologist, I watched this dynamic with interest until, all of the sudden, I was at the front of the line. “Oh pleeease, let me get the sweet one!” Right on cue, “sweet thing” handed change to her customer. “YES! I am gonna make it!” At that moment, the customer turned back to the counter, indicating that she forgot to get extra stamps, and in that same instant, I heard to my left, “You’re next! What do you want?”
My heart sank, but I hurried to the counter because I didn't want to be fussed at. “Good morning,” I said with a weak smile. She never looked at me but repeated, “What do you want?” Then I thought, "If anyone ever needed a random act of kindness, it is probably her! I can’t imagine too many people are nice to her—for good reason—but that’s not the point!"
Side note: I keep McDonald’s hamburger coupons in my purse for when I am at a stoplight and people come up to my window. I feel too guilty not to give them something, but I never know if by giving them money, I am contributing to some bad habit. So, free burgers seem to work in that circumstance!
So, back to the post office: I put on my best (forced) smile and said, “And how are you today?” She responded, “I’m not good at all!” In my head, I agreed with her on that! But aloud, I said, “Well, it is too beautiful a day for you not to be good! Here are some coupons for some free hamburgers. It is hard to be not good when you are eating a hamburger!” (Vegans excluded, of course!)
All of a sudden, for the first time, she looked up at me with a shocked look on her face. Now this story would be really powerful if I could tell you that she broke into tears and declared that she saw the error of her rude ways and would never be that way again! Yeah, that would be how a fairy tale would have ended! But because I live in the REAL world, my ending went like this: Her face slowly turned into a smile and she said, “Well, thank you. I didn’t expect that!” (I think I heard a pin drop in the line of people behind me!)
Her expression visibly softened and she asked how she could help me and if I wanted to look at some of the new stamps. I finished my transaction quite pleasantly and she suggested that I have a nice day. Then, she actually waited until I walked away from the counter before she invited the next person to come up. As I walked past the line of people, I actually got some smiles and thumbs up.
I later wondered how long the impact lasted. How far down the line did her improved demeanor last? Halfway? Maybe all day? Did someone in line go to their next errand and choose to be kind to someone who did not deserve it? Was the kindness paid forward? I hope so! And I hope someone is kind to me when I am tired and cranky and don’t deserve it, too!