I was bred to be polite. If there were a thoroughbred stable for polite people, I would have been a Kentucky blue blood despite my Ohio roots. I sometimes even bless myself when I sneeze.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction that I blame on—who else—my mother. Her instructions in etiquette were a large dose of, “What will people think if you don’t know which fork to use?” and a modicum of trying to instill in her children one basic tenet: The price of civility is low.
She was right, of course. It does not take much to hold a door open for the person behind you or wait your turn in line.
It seems, today, that most of the world did not have the benefit of my mother’s tutelage. In addition to needing a few lessons in civility, they must all be walking around with wrinkled shirts and eyes permanently crossed—both things she would have set straight immediately (“Don’t cross your eyes! They’ll stay that way.”) God only knows how many of you also run with scissors. Egads.
I am finding civility in short supply this week.
First, I encountered the woman working the phones for the Walgreens Customer Care line. I thought I was calling my local pharmacy, but they baited and switched me with robo-options into some national line. By the way, I think they named the Customer Care Line with as much irony as possible. There was no “Care” given.
I had lost some medication on a trip and needed to refill my prescription early to make up for it. The cranky woman on the phone spent five minutes telling me what she could not do for me. “I can’t do that. No, not that either.” When I mentioned that my local pharmacy team had done those very things previously—willingly and with a smile—she was silent. As I wished her a fine evening, I told her I would instead deal with my locals.
Then, I called our pediatrician’s office. When the receptionist inquired as to why my son needed to see the doctor, I launched into a brief (I’m a journalist—I know brief) explanation. Ten seconds in, she abruptly cut me off. When I later accepted the time she offered for the appointment, she again asked me why my son needed to be seen. In a treacly voice, I said, “For the very reason I was explaining when you so hastily cut me off mid-sentence.”
This morning, after school drop-off, I watched a minivan mother zoom impatiently around me, to drive highway speed down a residential street, her toddler’s arm poking out of the window while flapping in the breeze. She shook her head as if I was the crazy one for driving the speed limit while kids were walking to school and buses.
In contrast, I waited patiently as I stood in line at the store to buy pineapple. The express checkout was anything but, as the elderly woman in front of me launched into a conversation about her hot flashes with the mid-sixties female cashier. I smiled to myself and kept my zen about me, as I did not want to mirror the careless “Care” rep, the less-than-welcoming receptionist, the suburban mother on the edge. When the senior citizen finally left, she was smiling, as was the cashier. It took maybe two to three minutes of my time to wait patiently. But the payoff for this woman, who seemed not to have many people to talk to, seemed worth it.
I waited behind a parked car to let someone go by in an oncoming lane on my street. Lo and behold, he flashed me the peace sign for doing so. A fellow zen traveler.
Let’s unite, shall we? Those of us with our zen about us today, let’s ooze it wherever we happen to be standing, sitting, driving, talking.
I’m not always zen. I can be cranky. I can be rushed. I can be persnickety. Usually, though, not without provocation. If I’m mindful, my issues don’t usually spill onto those around me. Which is as it should be—we each have our own. No need to pile more on each other.
It took no more time, really, for me to allow our sweet little old lady friend to vent about her girl problems than it did the Uncaring Care Line Poster Girl to finish her litany of all the things she could not do for me. And yet, the results of those encounters felt totally different. Sweet little old lady walked out smiling, having had one of her few interactions outside what seems like a lonely home. And I, mildly annoyed, had to put my feelings in check because of the emotional vomiters of the world. Just my little nickname for people who spread their impatience, troubles, general distemper, with the rest of us. I am not yet enough of a zen warrior that I can just silently offer them light and peace. I still get triggered sometimes into annoyance.
My family members will attest to the fact that we rarely won an argument with Phyllis (aka Mom). Probably because she was right a lot. This time is no exception.
The price of civility is low. Let’s not play small. Pay up, Bucko. You can afford it.
And for God’s sake, keep your zen about you.