I was reading a friend’s (yes, I have friends…who knew? 😛 ) blog last week when I came across this post. Reading it inspired and infuriated me at the same time. Here is the post I’m referring to:
World Without End-Cold
I have a “friend” who loudly declared one day that Big Issue sellers “don’t want to work”. I tried to explain, as gently as I could considering how angry I was, that they buy the magazine, mark it up and sell it; that they’re out all day in the rain and wind; that it’s meant as a way for them to work for a living – that they’re working harder than many people will ever have to, and taking the abuse of a snotty public while they’re at it. It didn’t seem to compute. I don’t think the person concerned was expecting to hear an argument, and so he didn’t hear it.
As for his ‘friend’-
I know several people like that, who think that they are the only ones who actually *work* for a living. The person who served them at the coffee shop, the street cleaner, the salesperson in the electronics store? Lazy bums, all of them. It’s usually either that, or that they are in their job because they are ‘lower’ somehow-less intelligent, less educated, not motivated, bitter or generally of ‘lower’ stock. I probably don’t even have to tell you what I’ve heard said about people on public assistance, programs some don’t think should even exist. Either way, they are looking down their noses at anyone who is not in ‘their station’. But then, these people usually have never been in a position to where they have nothing less than top-notch jobs, been laid off or had a hard time of it. It must be nice…but the truth is, I kind of pity them. Sometimes they are arrogant, elitist jerks but, more often than not, they’re just clueless. “Doing what they [customer service workers] do because they don’t want to work?” Trust me, it’s work. Besides, I’m sure a person could find more enjoyable things to do on a Saturday night than park people’s cars. I know I could. Also, how do they know that the person serving them isn’t working through college to get the education they are assumed not to have? How do they know that person doesn’t have three kids at home to feed? They might also look down on a single person with kids, but how do they know that person is single, or is single by choice? How do they know that the person working the cash register at Walmart isn’t a former software engineer who’s been affected by a bad economy and layoffs? How do they know that the job at the coffee shop isn’t a second job the person takes to help pay off student loans? I’ve known people like this. How do they know that the person getting Social Security hasn’t busted her butt working and paying into the system a lot longer than she really should have and only stopped working because she’s been forced to? Yes, I have personal stake in this. Bitter and angry, party of one.
Okay, rant over.
I’ll admit I haven’t always been as gracious as I’m expecting others to be. I have a bachelor’s in communication from one of the best schools in my home state (Go NC State!!!!). I’ve had jobs where I’ve made good salaries-or, what was good for me back then. I was young, and brimming with the delusion of invincibility that comes along with it. I thought ‘it couldn’t happen to me’. Long story short, it did happen to me. I was quickly knocked down by the loss of a job and had to experience first-hand what it was like to work multiple jobs to pay the rent or to live off of credit cards. I have the bankruptcy on my record to prove it. One thing I learned the hard way is that none of us are immune from setbacks; they can happen to anyone, at any time. I know people who have lost considerable amounts of their retirement savings in the stock market. They weren’t irresponsible, but the general economy sunk and took the stock market (and their savings) with it. Now in any given place you can find people who had high-powered jobs but were laid off because their companies had to make cutbacks. Several of my friends can’t work anymore because of an illness. I’ve known of families who are now on food stamps because the main breadwinner got hurt and can’t work anymore. Heck, my husband went through all of his savings taking care of me for the seven months after my wreck that I couldn’t work. These weren’t things that could have been foreseen, otherwise we would have gladly planned. While there is something to be said for saving for a rainy day and thinking about the future, I just want to stress that a person’s job situation isn’t necessarily due to a character flaw or anything the person could have done. Unfortunately, sometimes stuff just happens. I wish it didn’t, but maybe it has a purpose. Few things will teach you the value of human compassion than being in a position where you are on the receiving end!
Speaking of compassion…
I was touched by the fact that my friend wanted to help this young lady, a person he barely knew. That means he spoke with her, actually listened to what she had to say, took an interest in her and thought about her for longer than the two minutes it would take for her to hand him his paper. In other words, he treated her like an ‘equal’ as opposed to The Person Who Is There To Serve Him. I know this might not sound like much but, believe me, it is. As someone who has worked extensively in the service industry (restaurant and retail), I cannot express enough how much it can mean to have a customer notice you as a person. Restaurants have a high employee turnover rate for a reason; the job can be very interesting, but also some of the roughest and most thankless work you’ll ever find. I’ve personally enjoyed many of my service jobs, but there were definitely moments when I’d loved to have given someone a mashed-potato facial. 🙂 However, every now and then you’ll come across the customer who makes you glad you are there. I don’t remember many of the rude customers I’ve had (beyond the extremes), but I definitely remember the ones who took the time to speak with me and showed interest in/concern for me. This might especially make a difference to the person who stands out in freezing-cold weather and sells newspapers for a living; in other words, the person many people pass on the street every day but don’t even notice. We never know; that might be us or someone we love one day. Karma may be a bitch, but she can also do good and God knows we need all the help we can get!