Be Kind. Kinder Than Ever: Your Neighbors and Strangers May Be More Stressed and Sad Than Ever Before

Photo: Patrick Down/Flickr Creative Commons

You know that moment. Where you’re waiting in line. A long line. And you’re bored. And you’re aggravated.

So you pull out your phone and tell the world, via social media, that the line at Such and Such Coffee Co. or This Particular Fast Food Joint, is long. Or that they got your order wrong. Or that the staff is incompetent. No wonder they work here.

Calm down.

In our fast-paced society, we’re losing our patience — and we’re gaining ways to share that we’re losing our patience. Twitter has in many ways become a stream-of-consciousnesses for the pissed-off*.

Chill out.

The moment will pass.

Your order wrong? Know that humans make mistakes.

While I’m not advocating that you don’t ever raise a complaint where a complaint is due, let’s stop blowing up at the pettiest of things and causing emotional damage in the meantime. Take your complaint to the right place, at the right time. Minimize the hurt.

Why?

Because sometimes things are out of our control. People — with hearts and feelings — are often behind these mistakes and they don’t need to be belittled our made a spectacle of. Sometimes they’re at the front line of situations they can’t control. Like when the steak isn’t cooked all the way but the waiter gets the yelling-at. Like when a store is short-staffed due to someone calling off, and the reliable people that showed up have to deal the effects of long lines and tested customer patience.

We, as a society, talk about cyber-bullying being bad. And it is. But isn’t taking to these mediums to complain — in the form of undeserved name-calling — a form of bullying? Turning to social media, outraged that a coffee is the wrong size, irate that they waited longer than 10 minutes for something — can hurt a person. Sure, a corporation as an entity can take it. Maybe it’s because I’m an empath, but it bothers me so, so much when someone talks down to someone, usually someone in a service position. I think we need to be kinder to people that serve us — kinder to people in general. People should not be called names or belittled for working where they work. Often, we see the good people on social media come to the rescue of workers that were the butt of a joke, the target of an over-exaggerated complaint. And that’s cool. And, offline, we see other people in line help diffuse a situation, for example: to tell someone to, “Hey, check yourself.” Humans looking out for humans.

This pettiness seems to have soared to new heights, and empathy seems to have dropped to an all-time low. And in times like these, when so many of us feel threatened (such as rights being taken away), when so many people feel scared, when so many people are uncertain about their futures, when so many people don’t even know where they belong anymore, when so many people are struggling with whatever they may be struggling with (finances, job security, health), why are we still mean to one another? I’m only using customer service situations as ONE example of the many ways in which we’re awful to people.

Yesterday, I was on my way somewhere and stopped off at a rest area. I went to Burger King and ordered “the fish.” When I looked in my bag, the wrapper implied I had a burger. The young woman thought I said “the Six” — meaning the #6 combo, which was a home-style burger. We laughed about it. Fish. Six. I waited an extra not-even-five minutes for my new sandwich. And then we laughed again, and I got back on the road.

This situation could have gone completely different had I not adopted the mindset of being nice to everyone — even if I’m a bit peeved on the inside.

I could have said, “Can’t you hear? I said FISH.”

The problem with remarks like that is they could inadvertently be insensitive. Maybe she indeed had a hearing impairment. Maybe she misheard me because her mind was flooded with thoughts about paying bills and attending school. Maybe she was verbally abused as a child and getting reamed out by someone brings back bad memories. Who knows. That’s the point: we don’t know what someone is going through, what they have gone through. We don’t know how the words will hurt. In this case, it was a minor mistake, and we both came through it unscathed. But, so often, I see unjustified flare-ups in lines. People often just lose it for no reason, and someone else pays for it emotionally. (Note: I’m not saying people who consistently make mistakes shouldn’t get a talking-to or recommended for more training, or that companies with consistently poor customer service shouldn’t reevaluate the their internal processes — but you know what I mean — there are other ways to handle these situations than making someone feel terrible.) And, hey, we didn’t even consider that this error could have actually been my fault, possibly prevented if I spoke louder and more clearly.

Again, I’m only using one example of this uncalled-for meanness — the customer experience. But there are others. And sometimes it’s not only choosing not to be mean when experiencing issues, but other times it’s about being nice in everyday situations. Smiling at someone. Complimenting someone. Letting someone go in before you. Waving a car through during a major merge situation. There are so many ways to be kinder to other humans, and you know what? It truly does feel good to make someone smile, so why do we so often CHOOSE to make someone sad? A stranger at that?

Photo: Robert Occhialini/Creative Commons

There’s so much I want to say about this, but, frankly, my heart hurts. So I’ll leave it at this. Think twice before you make a snide comment at — or about — someone, in real life or online. Think twice before you blast someone, publicly, on social media for making a mistake that you will no doubt later realize had minimal impact on your life. Is there a nicer way to handle it?

Next time you’re bored in line, strike up a conversation. Ask a question, “Wow — it’s packed here today. Is something special happening in town?” Maybe you’ll learn something new.

That old bumper sticker was right. Mean people suck. Don’t be mean.

P.S. I say this with all seriousness: if you find that you are snappy with people, snappier than before, maybe you need a little self-care and self-love. We’re all in this together and even the strongest of us have breaking points, and sometimes those breaking points can cause us to be more on edge, and, therefore, lose our temper with others. The world is a tumultuous place these days and even if our personal lives are OK, the world around us can have an affect on our well-being. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help, to talk to someone, to be more mindful. At our core, we’re all decent people. Let’s all work together to be kinder.

P.P.S. Remember that being “hangry” has been known to cause inadvertent meanness. So keep an extra candy bar, banana, or other healthy or unhealthy snack on hand at all times.

*Regarding the Twitter is a stream-of-consciousness for the pissed-off; I think this medium is a fine place to fight for a cause and air grievances where they’re due; in this case, I am referring just to using it to hurt people when it’s not necessarily merited.

This story originally appeared on my website.

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