If Nothing Else, Be Kind

Angie and I stopped by Dollar Tree earlier this week to pick up a birthday card for her dad. Our purchase was small and the line was extremely long so we decided to walk the aisles for a bit. When we returned to the front of the store 10 minutes later, the line was even longer than it was before. For a moment, we debated on returning the card and coming back another day but we had combed through so many cards to find this one that we didn’t want to take a chance that it might be gone (or more likely, that we’d forget to come back and would end up paying more for a card at Walmart.) So we got in line.

I’m the first to admit, I’m not the most patient person in the world. I’m working on it but sometimes I still get antsy waiting in line. This day though, I felt pretty peaceful. We had nothing else pressing to do, except stop in to check on my mom, so we weren’t in a hurry. The same could not be said for a group of 4 at the head of the line.

We were 3 people back from the foursome but could hear every word that was said. Yes, they were that loud. At first, they were complaining about having to wait in line for so long, but then. one of the women started calling the cashier names. The cashier was probably all of about 18 years old. This was likely her first job. And to boot, this was only her second day on the job. She held her composure and continued to scan the items before her. All the while, the leader of the foursome continued to berate her, while the other three laughed. These were adults, mind you. Grown adults!

The customer behind them was embarrassed and unsure of what to do. I could tell because she kept looking back toward the line as if asking for help. The man in front of me just muttered, “Only in America.” He was from Haiti.

To add insult in injury, the Less-Than-Fantastic Four decided, after the cashier had totaled out their transaction, that they needed sodas. One of them walked back to the cooler, grabbed 4 drinks and came back to the register. The cashier couldn’t add them to the transaction and told the leader that she’d ring them up after she paid for the first purchase. Ms. Meanness refused. She wanted her way or no way. In the end, Ms. Meanness paid for the first purchase, threw a handful of bills and coins on the counter for the drinks, said something obscene, and stormed out, telling her group that they were never coming back.

“Wouldn’t that be great,” I remember thinking to myself, just as the poor cashier burst into tears.

As human beings, we may not know what the right thing is to do when someone is acting the fool in front of us, especially in this day and age, but we all instinctively know what to do when one of us is crying. We comfort them. And that’s what we did. Every single person in that line. I have never seen such an outpouring of support.

When it came our turn to check out, the only thing I could think of was something I read on Facebook earlier in the week:

So I simply said, “It’s not about you, it’s about them. They are the ones with the problem. Don’t let them get the best of you.”

I’m pretty sure my words, and the words of all the rest of us who stood there witnessing this senseless act of stupidity, were too little too late. We don’t go to Dollar Tree often but I can almost guarantee you that this girl will not be there the next time that we do. The look on her face when she asked me if I knew what time it was told me that she was counting down the minutes until this day, this nightmare, and this job were over. I know that look because I have worn it before myself.

This kind of stuff happens way too often. Everyone that I talked to about this incident had a similar story. My niece, that same day, received a call from her friend who works in the mall. Two customers had gotten into a fight during her shift. In the midst of the brawl, someone yelled that they saw a gun and the mall was evacuated, but not before people started running and pushing each other in panic. Thankfully, there was no gun but here in my own town, three young men got into a fight at Save-A-Lot last week, where there was a gun and one of the men was shot.

When I was 18 years old, I worked at Save-A-Lot. This same one.

I hate to say it, but as the foursome at Dollar Tree stood there being mean, thoughts of brawls and guns and pain and death crossed my mind. We all think we’d be a hero if something bad happened in front of us but the truth is, more often than not, we’re just as scared as the person being harassed. None of us want a trip to the mall, the grocery store, or Dollar Tree to be the last trip we ever make, so when people are being bullies, sometimes we just stand there in the in-between.

Had someone spoken up or spoken out – even the cashier – we don’t know what would have happened. Perhaps nothing, since bullies don’t like it when someone stands up to them, but at the same time, we don’t really know.

I don’t like being scared. I don’t like feeling helpless. I don’t like it when folks are mean to others. But if life has taught me anything, it’s this – I can’t fix what’s broke inside other people. I can only fix me. I can be the good that I want to see in the world. I can be more patient. I can smile more often. I can practice saying positive things, even when everyone around me is negative. Not just when I’m standing in line but every day, in every situation. If I do nothing else, at least I can be kind.

Love Thy Neighbor (if not their lunch)

You just got to love friends! They are the only people in the world who can give you crap about something one minute, only to turn around and bring you a steaming hot mug of your favorite tea the next. We disagree, we debate, yet in the end, we still love each other. Ah, yes, friends!

Like me, many of my friends are LGBT. I write grants for a LGBT organization (sometimes two, actually) and have come to know a lot of great folks through that work. When it comes to equality, acceptance, and living free from hate and harm, we all agree with each other 100%. Those things should be a given for all people. When it comes to other things though, like lunch, we tend to disagree a bit.

Angie and I ate lunch at Chick-Fil-A. I will be the first to stand at the front of the room and confess – when it comes to Chick-Fil-A, I am an addict. I loved them before we adopted a plant-based diet. Back then it was their Original Chicken Sandwich that I couldn’t get enough of. Now, it’s that darn Superfood Salad. Sure, I can make it at home, but occasionally we do enjoy eating a bite outside our house, and this is just one of those bites I crave. Along with the Ice-Dream. It’s the only ice cream cone in town that does not make my stomach hurt. Even the dairy-free options at Baskin-Robbins are out. And the Ice-Dream is cheap! I just got a cone for 59 cents!

Some of our friends always have a heart-attack when we post anything about Chick-Fil-A. They don’t like gay people. They are all conservative Christians. They donate money to anti-gay causes so buying from them means you support them too! I’ve heard it all and the message doesn’t fall on deaf ears. The problem I have is this – why must everything in life be a battle of us versus them?? If we ourselves want to be included, why do we feel the need to exclude other people? Doesn’t equality cover everyone?

This dilemma of mine goes beyond the doors of Chick-Fil-A though. I’ve come to the point where I’m seriously considering asking Mark Zuckerberg why, with all the other innovations Facebook has come up with, can we not have a better set of filters for our news feed? The stuff I want to see – Linda’s local adventures, Bev’s baseball games, Sue’s outings with her granddaughter, and the fun Melissa and her husband are having running a campground in the Ozarks – gets buried by stuff I could care less about.

Facebook is a platform for social interaction and I get it, some of my friends and family are super passionate about their politics. That’s all well and good, but maybe come at it from a different angle. If you want the rest of us to see your side, introduce us to your candidate. We can’t see the good he or she is doing in the world if all we see instead are the negative campaigns bashing the competition. If I had to go to the polls today, I wouldn’t. When Republicans are calling Democrats “liberal hate-mongers” and Democrats are calling Republicans “gun-toting Nationalists”, I don’t want to stand on either side. I care about this country, I really do, but I care about my own sanity even more.

I’m tired of the meanness. I just can’t do hate. Trust me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. And it especially doesn’t work in a minimalist paradigm. We’re supposed to rid our lives of anything that creates clutter – mental, physical, or otherwise – and hate is clutter. It takes up so much room in your heart and mind that there’s no space for anything else.

The world is not going to change on its own but screaming about the way things “should be” isn’t going to create that change either. For me, I simply want to model the behaviors I would like to see in others – love, kindness, and acceptance (or tolerance, if acceptance is too hard). More importantly though, I want to protect myself from negativity, since prolonged exposure can seriously undermine even the best attempts at being positive.

So, what does this mean exactly? It means that I’m going to love my friends, even though they will never know the absolute deliciousness of a waffle-cut fry. I’m going to love them whether they identify as a donkey, an elephant, a lone wolf, or a unicorn. I’m going to love them regardless of who they love, what church they go to, what they eat for breakfast, how many cats or dogs they have, what teams they support (Go Texans!) and I’m going to continue to hope for positive change in the world (and a better filter on Facebook).