Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Be nice. Everybody's broken.

I made a trek to get my pre-Christmas haircut at a local chain place. I was settling into the comfy chair and going through the ritual of "how do you want your hair cut" with my stylist* (whom I shall call "Carol", just because that's a good Christmasy-sounding name) when another customer came in.

Carol left me to check in the new customer. I couldn't see the exchange that followed, but I heard it clearly. And it went like this:

Carol: Hello, and welcome to (redacted).

Customer: Grump grump grumble.

Carol: Can I get your last name?

Customer: Mfpththgrumble**

Carol: I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

Customer: Mpsthsgrumpgrump

Carol: Sorry, could you spell that?

Customer: intelligible grumble.

Carol: Okay, just to make sure, one more time?

Customer's female friend (possible wife?): SMITH! S - M - I - T - H! GOT IT?

Carol: Yes, thank you. And how about a first name?

Customer: Grumble grump fsgetedpde

Carol: And could you spell that?

Customer's female companion: JACK! J - A - C - K! Got it? SHEESH!

Carol: Yes, I have it now - thank you.

Customer's female companion: We're leaving! If you're so deaf we don't want to be here! Grump grump grump! (stomping footsteps out the door)

At which point Carol came over and stood behind my chair. We made eye contact in the mirror - she rolled her eyes, but I could see the pain in her face. "That was the wrong thing to say to a person who'd just had ear surgery," she said.

Turns out she's been deaf in one ear since childhood, and just had surgery last week to (hopefully) repair the damage from early sickness, and (hopefully) restore some hearing. But it's still quite stuffed up, so she remains partially deaf.

She was hurt by the exchange, I could tell. I don't know her story, but I would guess, based on her reaction, that this wasn't the first time she'd been bullied for her impairment. And all the while she was fighting to remain professional. I suspect that, had she said what she was thinking, it wouldn't have gone over so well with management. So she let them go without challenging their rudeness.

We ended up having a delightful conversation about our kids, and our favorite Christmas movies, and family customs over the holidays. I could tell she loved her kids, and was doing her best to give them a great Christmas, in spite of the fact that she had just had surgery (and was working less than a week later). I would like to think that, just maybe, I brought some light and levity back to her day, after she had been treated so poorly. I did my best to encourage her, anyway. This is the work of the Kingdom of God: to shine light into darkness. To turn swords into plowshares. To speak of peace in the midst of violence. To encourage, where there has been discouragement.

So next time you're tempted to insult somebody, or you feel like stomping out in a self-righteous huff, or you're frustrated because somebody is a little bit slow***, just be nice. Be patient and friendly and understanding, okay?

It's possible they actually are deaf, and are trying their best to put up with your mumbling.

And after all, it's Christmas.

* As a man, I'm not comfortable with saying I have a hair stylist. But she wasn't exactly a barber, either. Hair services professional? I could live with that.

** All names have been changed so as to protect the grumpy

*** I don't want to overlook the possibility that this customer and his female companion were also acting out of pain, as well. It's possible they were just rude; it's also possible that they had recently received some bad news, or maybe he had a speech impediment that I didn't know about. Maybe somebody had been rude to them earlier in the day. None of that is an excuse for their behavior, of course. But if given the opportunity, we should try to be nice to rude people, as well. Maybe they've got some pain in their lives, as well. Maybe that will be my new Christmas theme: Be nice. Everybody's broken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I go to a clinic regularly and many of the "clients" are rude and abusive to the ladies at the front desk and in the pharmacy. They are demanding and have a great sense of entitlement. It is very painful to watch. But I have to say the staff handle it all with amazing self control, patience, and cordiality. I sent both departments a thank you note and a high five for putting up with so much poop. Yes many of these people are broken, but broken people who regularly misbehave need to understand that personal pain and suffering is not an excuse to hurt others. Forgiveness is hard for chronically rude people. Of course, like you said, you don't know those grumps story. It was kind of you to offer support and caring. You are so pastoral.