Monthly Archives: November 2015

Kindness Is Free

Ordinarily at this time of year I throw a fit about Thanksgiving Day shopping. It probably won’t come as an overwhelming surprise to you that I’m not a fan–it takes all my concentration to deal with the concept of Black Friday (I’m down with the sales, but think 4:00 AM is too early to be doing anything and people getting into fistfights over a television is exactly what’s wrong with the world today), but starting the Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself is just beyond the pale. It is one day–one day–when the idea is to spend time with people you love, expressing gratitude for the things you already have. And apparently that’s too much somehow; apparently being grateful is just a thing to check off the list on our way to our next bout of relentless consumer frenzy.

I digress.

I usually throw a fit around this time of year about the whole Thanksgiving Day Shopstravaganza, encouraging people to opt out and stay home and remember that 10% off towels is no excuse for taking people away from their own families to come open a cash register for you. And every year I get howled down by the legions of dedicated Turkey Day Shoppers–interesting how this phenomenon has only been happening for a few years, and already there are people who cannot bear the thought of going without the opportunity to carb-load then grab a shopping cart–so this year I’m giving up. I surrender. Behold my white flag.

Instead I’ll say just this: if you’re going to shop on Thanksgiving Day (the advice applies to Black Friday shoppers, too), please be unbelievably kind.

Not like “say thank you to the cashier” kindness, or “minimize the number of people you kick in the face over a Lego set” kindness. No, we’re talking about “go out of your way to be the nicest person in the history of niceness”-level behavior here. Be so kind that you become a legend among the store employees who interact with you. Be so incredibly, spectacularly, overwhelmingly, relentlessly, unfailingly kind that everyone around you gets a little kinder just by association.

Here’s the thing:

A frequent argument for Why It Is Our Civic Duty to Shop on a Federal Holiday is that some store workers are getting paid overtime for working that day, so they sign up voluntarily to work for the extra pay. Even overlooking the fact that it’s a little sad that we live in a first-world nation where there are still people struggling so hard that they will surrender holiday time with their families for a few extra bucks, there’s also the fact that many companies have a rule that for every X employees who are working, there must be Y number of management on-site as well. There must be Z number of janitorial staff, or maintenance crew, etc. There must be W number of folks at the customer service desk, or the customer support call center. I can guarantee you with 99.999% certainty that not all of them are there voluntarily–somewhere in that chain is a person who is only there because corporate policy requires it and their choices are either to show up or to lose their job right in the middle of the holiday season. So since you have, in your undeniable need to save 30% on linens, forced someone to give up time with their family so you can come pick out new pillowcases, then the absolute least you can do is be supremely pleasant.

And in addition to the employees you’ll meet, the fact that you exist in the world and are out and about means that emergency personnel must be on duty. Someone has to be there to resuscitate your slap-happy self when you get all loopy on your DEALS DEALS DEALS and wrap your car around a parking meter. Someone has to hose down the toy aisle when you find the PERFECT GIFT OMG NOW THEY WILL FINALLY LOVE ME and spontaneously combust in the middle of the Barbie section. Someone has to come break it up when you get into a full-tilt West Side Story-style rumble in the parking lot over who gets the space closest to the door. So since all of those people also have to be away from their families to come save you from yourself, the absolute least you can do is be conscientious of that and behave accordingly.

And remember, we’re not just talking about throwing people the barest crumb of human politeness here. We’re not going to stop at doing the obligatory mumbled “thank you” or “happy whateverdays”. No, we’re going out of our dang minds with graciousness.

For example:

You can park at the whee lordy end of the parking lot and hike. It’s good for your health, and completely eliminates the parking lot rage aspect of your day; plus it lets someone else get a really good spot, which means they’re in a slightly better mood going in.

You can wipe down the sink in the restroom after you wash your hands. You don’t have to steal a bottle of Lysol from housewares and scrub the place down, but we all know how irritating it can be to have no place to set your purse because the counters all look like they’ve just emerged from the bottom of the sea. Take two seconds and give ’em a little dry-off.

You can try generally to avoid your phone, or at least get off your calls as quickly as possible; sure you may need to check a size or something, and we get that, but be done by the time you hit the cash register and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t be the person wandering aimlessly down the middles of the aisles, chatting away about their personal medical history while inexplicably cart-blocking every single thing anyone else in the store could possibly want.

You can observe the people around you, and take little opportunities to do things to make their lives easier. Move your cart if it’s between them and the toy they’re eyeing. Pick up the mitten their toddler gleefully threw down. Offer to let the guy carrying a 10-lb sack of potatoes at Target cut ahead of you in line–he’s probably on a WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T GET POTATOES YOU SOLVE IT OR I WILL MURDER YOU RIGHT NOW mission, and your cart full of stocking stuffers can wait.

Be kind, is what I’m saying, and then be a little kinder. Start being holiday festive now–if you can start your holiday shopping now, you can also start your holiday cheer. Be so full of peace on earth and goodwill to all that it makes people around you stand a little taller. Be the person who is so ludicrously kind and sweet that you leave a trail of kindness behind you wherever you go.

Be the loving, gracious, glorious you that I know you can be, gang. I’d prefer that you not shop at all on Thanksgiving Day, but if you absolutely must, please be so amazing that the stores you visit send you a thank-you note and a personal invitation to come back and shop again next year.

You’re amazing and we both know it; now get out there and show it. Kindness is free, gang. Go fling it around like you’re in a little one-person shopping parade.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely

Have a Seat at My Table

First a little background information: I used to work in childcare. Specifically, I was the lead teacher in an after-school classroom; my kids ranged from kindergarten to 12 years old, so while they were generally past the “how to function at a survival level” stage (how to eat, use the restroom etc), they were firmly in the middle of the “how to be human” stage. You remember what elementary school was like: half dumping in facts and data, the other half figuring out how to interact without too much bloodshed.

As a result, most of the disciplinary incidents could be resolved with a brief rules reminder or a bit of clarification–“walking feet, please”, or “we keep the cars on the carpet so people walking past don’t trip. Please take that one back onto the rug”. But every once in a while someone would have a super-rough day and need a break; you could call it “time out” if you want, but really the goal was something less punitive and more just removing the kiddo from the situation until they could cool off. The table nearest my supplies cupboard worked best for that–it was farthest from everything else in the room–so when someone was Hulking out, they were instructed to go “have a seat at my table” until I could clean up the calamity, stop any bleeding, console anyone left weeping, and come see what had set off the shenanigans.

Now here’s why I told you all that: yesterday some truly awful things happened in Paris. You’ve probably heard about them, and folks around the world are responding admirably and beautifully. But as with any truly awful thing, there are also some staggeringly insensitive responses coming from people who should absolutely know better (can you pick your own words to form a sentence? Then you can pick better ones and make better sentences. Try again, jerkfaces).

And initially, this post was going to be a full Buffalo Tantrum about that. I was going to scream and holler about people making racist statements, refusing to fact-check, lumping together groups of people who are literally on exact opposite sides of the problem, and so forth; and my rallying cry was going to be “All of you may have a seat at my table”.

But then I stopped and listened to those words: all of you may have a seat at my table.

And it occurred to me that I was about >this< close to committing the same sins I was railing against–lumping people together, refusing to hear where other people were coming from, declaring that any viewpoint other than my own was automatically wrong–when the truth of the matter is that I actually don’t understand what’s causing folks to say some of these things. At a guess there’s no small amount of fear at the bottom of it; but I don’t know backstories, don’t know histories, don’t know whether they (for example) lost someone on 9/11 and are now deeply scarred and reactionary about these sorts of things.

But perhaps if we have a seat at my table and talk about it, we can sort some of it out. We can brainstorm different solutions. We can look for similarities among the differences. We can pass the cookies and juice, and figure out why we’re using such angry words and whether there’s a better way to express the things we truly need.

Look, I’m not saying all responses are appropriate to share right out there in front of god and everybody. I’m not saying there aren’t people floating around who are just plain racist, just plain hateful, just plain malicious, just plain trolls. But I am saying it’s unfair of me to assume that everyone who has expressed an opinion that made me grate my teeth is automatically a bad person.

So maybe I should invite them to have a seat at my table. Maybe I should be willing to dialogue with people instead of dismissing them out-of-hand because of something they said during a frightened moment. Maybe I can insist on a model where my table is for cooling off and talking, not for sending people to sit in time-out until I’m tired of being mad at them.

And for the folks who have a seat at my table, and we talk, and I find out that they’re the sort of vitriolic hate-mongering fear-mongering jerks who will never be part of the solution?

Well, I guess they can go back to playing with the other kids, and I can keep on watching ’em like a hawk and praying that their grownups will come pick them up soon.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely, Share the Toys