There’s a message I’ve heard repeated lately by employees of nonprofits, hospitality and service industries. It goes something like this: “It’d be a great job if I didn’t have to work with the public.”
In whatever setting that phrase has been stated, it has sparked knowing responses from the people listening, and I’ve heard their shared agreement. “Oh, yes, the public. They can be a real pain in the tookus.”
No doubt, you agree. If you’ve ever worked retail, gotten stuck in a checkout line, eaten at a restaurant or driven anywhere at all, you’ve witnessed the bad behavior. People are rude, impatient and unkind. In our ever-accelerating society, the public demands more, faster. There may not be a soul around able to make a burger at home in 10 minutes or less, but gosh darnit it had best be delivered in less than three minutes through the drive-through window. Or else.
We act like the public are external to us, a nasty group of people that we are not a part of, but that is simply not true. The bad news is this: the public are us. The good news is that we have the power to change our terrible reputation.
First, let’s all agree to get off our phones in the checkout lanes and drive-throughs and give our full attention to the people who deserve it. There are no posts, texts or phone calls that are so important that we can’t exchange a few pleasant words with the people who are helping us through our days.
Second, let’s cut back on the road rage. I mean, really … where are we all going and why is it so imperative for us to get there so quickly? Are any of us truly so important that we can’t just simmer down, turn up the tunes and decide to enjoy the ride? Third, let’s employ the Thumper principle and decide that if we can’t say something positive, then we should keep our collective mouths shut. There’s so much complaining in today’s world; we don’t realize how that negativity boomerangs and affects how we live our individual lives. When we change the way we talk, we change the way we live.
Fourth, let’s decide to consider others more important than ourselves. Many of the people who must work with the dreaded public make minimum wage and attempt to provide for their families with multiple low-paying jobs.
They care for our most basic needs and are often treated poorly for it. What if we honored the people who provided the scaffolding for our everyday lives instead of treating them like servants?
Finally, let’s take to heart the phrase, “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind always.” We all have a whole lot on our plates, and it’s a lot to manage in the in-and-out of days. Empathy and kindness are powerful tools.
So here we go, fellow members of the dreaded public. Let’s look people in the eye, smile, say please and thank you, tip well, show genuine interest, extend kindness, choose patience and behave. Together, we might be able to improve our well-earned bad reputation. We can also create a movement that can change the world (or at least someone’s day) for the better.
Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.