“What does the cashier see in our eyes?” I wondered as my teenage son and I approached the woman at counter number 17 of the Motor Vehicle Administration, after waiting for 3 1/2 hours to replace his lost learner’s permit.
Does she see anger? Frustration? Impatience? Or can we turn that all around?
While we were waiting, I’d been reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly,** in which she writes of the many virtues of sharing our vulnerabilities in order to live wholeheartedly – that is, in a manner that creates meaningful connections between ourselves and everyone we encounter.
In a sidebar that stretches across three grayed-out pages she highlights the way service people are often treated, recounting a story where she was caught on the phone in the middle of a drive-thru and had the presence of mind to tell the cashier:
“I’m so sorry. The phone rang right when I was pulling up and I thought it was my son’s school.”
I must have surprised her because she got huge tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don’t even see us.” (p.149)
Brown goes on to explain,
“I see adults who don’t even look at their waiters when they speak to them. I see parents who let their young children talk down to store clerks. I see people rage and scream at receptionists…
When we treat people as objects we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and our own. Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat as objects— people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.
Buber wrote, ‘When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.’” (p.149-150)
I finished the three pages in Brown’s book and handed it to my son.
“Read this segment,” I said, and he did, agreeing with all of Brown’s observations about the current state of our society – people so involved with their phones and so wrapped up in themselves that they never once look a person across the counter from them in the eye.
If we know in our hearts that every individual is made in the image of God, imagine what we’re missing when we don’t stop to appreciate that kind of beauty every time we encounter it in a person each day.
And if we are God’s vessels – broken but still useful – can’t we summon enough courage to step out of ourselves so He can use us to promote peace in the world?
The rewards far outweigh the risk.
By the time we got to counter number 17, my son and I were tired, hungry, and more than ready to go home. But we both knew the woman who greeted us was doing her best. We smiled and were courteous. And lo and behold – she smiled back. We made small talk. She was surprised and laughed a little.
We learned she has kids of her own, was sympathetic to our situation, was patient and understanding.
Most importantly, we looked her in the eye as we spoke to her. And I saw she had big, brown gorgeous ones with tiny gold flecks and long, black eyelashes. And her hands moved across her keyboard with confident grace because she was very quick and knowledgeable in her work.
I’m glad I took a few moments to really see her – yet another one of God’s masterpieces.
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