Mad at the World

I’m kind of mad at the world right now and I’m beginning to question its sanity. Have we lost all sense of what it means to be kind, decent, and respectable human beings and given into throwing the type of tantrums and fits that even my 4-year-old niece knows better than to do in public??

We’ve all spent the past 3 months worried about a virus, to the point that life has been disrupted in a way that may never return to the “real normal”. We debate and even hate on one another for opting to wear a mask or not wear a mask in public, as if this single act alone is going to save our lives. We act out in the grocery store when we run into neighbors and acquaintances we once would have taken a moment to speak to, all because they fall on the opposite side of our stand on social distancing etiquette. And if you think this is not true, come with me when I go to work my merchandising gig sometime. Just last week, I witnessed nearly a dozen incidents in which one person was being mean to another – all over a piece a cloth!

Given all this, there is no wonder then that folks are burning courthouses and vandalizing Target stores too. Life as we know it is already in a state of chaos so why not just add to the madness!

What happened to George Floyd and all the other people of color who we aren’t hearing about on the news is unacceptable. It is wrong. It is outrageous. It is serious. It needs to stop. But folks, it’s not going to. Why? Because we hate each other over the stupidest of things!

I fully understand that not all people are acting badly, not all cops are corrupt, and not everyone is berating their neighbor over a face mask. But even if we aren’t being outwardly hateful, all of us carry our own set of prejudices. And what is prejudice exactly? I had to look this up myself because I was a bit confused. My family (misguidedly) taught me that prejudice could be good in some instances – such as when it keeps you from making a bad choice. For example, when you don’t go to McDonald’s because you “hate” how they are killing people every day with their food.  This is not prejudice though – this is called being discerning. One is acceptable, the other is not.

Prejudice is having a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. Prejudice is when we think the black man who has picked up our trash for the last 25 years is somehow less of a person because of the color of his skin. Prejudice is telling your gay relative that she’s going to hell because she “made a choice that no one else agrees with”. But prejudice is also thinking it’s “us vs. them” in every single situation, from how we react to senseless tragedies to how to fight a virus.

Every argument, every feud, and every war was started by the “us vs. them” mindset. Isn’t it time we changed that? All lives matter and despite what we have been taught to believe, people have way more in common with one another than they have differences – starting with the fact that we all live on the same planet, bleed the same color blood, die of the same diseases, and have the same choices when it comes to treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

Yes, I’m mad at the world right now. I’m mad at my own family, my neighbors, and my community for being mean to one another when we should all be trying to lift one another up. Life is hard enough as it is. We don’t need to fuel the hatred and indecency just because we can. So here’s what I’m going to do about it…

I love you all. I respect your choice to wear a mask or not wear a mask, because only you know how you have been affected in this pandemic. I respect your political choice, whether you are Democrat, Republican, or in-between. I share your outrage at the senseless death and destruction that has become the sad hallmark of our country and I stand with you in peaceful protest, hoping one day soon this will change. While I will always be discerning in my own choices, I vow to no longer let the “us vs. them” mentality creep into my life and above all, I will not pass down any prejudices I may have learned in my lifetime to anyone that I love.

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.