ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker
STANDING FOR SOMETHING
I had passed by her a couple of times while we were both shopping in the same grocery store at the same time. Each time she had smiled pleasantly as we passed, and I remember having the distinct impression that she was a nice, kind, polite person.
And that’s important to me, because I really value “nice,” “kind” and “polite.” These are personal traits I admire, and aspire to. So when I see them in others, my heart is warmed.
When I pulled in behind her at the check-out stand, however, I saw something else.
“This is outrageous!” she said in a voice that wasn’t exactly impolite, but was definitely firm and resolute. In her arms she held a dozen or so magazines, the cover of which she clutched against her chest.
I squirmed. I mean, I respected the position she was taking and everything. But what happened to “nice”? Where was “kind”? And what in heaven’s name had she done with “polite”?
“My children come to this store,” she continued. “They see this stuff and they ask me, ‘Mommy, what is that?” Tell me how I’m supposed to explain this sort of thing to a 7-year-old!”
To be honest, she wasn’t completely unkind in her manner or her language. But it was clear that she was not pleased, and it had something to do with the magazines she was holding. I glanced at the magazine rack that was there for people to browse as they awaited their turn with the checker, and I noticed that one of the placeholders was empty. Given the tawdry and sensationalistic nature of most of the other magazine covers that were still in their respective places on the rack, I found myself wondering what could have possibly been displayed on the magazines the irate 30-something woman was now holding.
“I don’t have anything to do with the magazine display,” the checker told her. “You’ll have to talk to the manager.”
The young mother marched directly to the counter where the checker indicated the manager was working, leaving her unchecked groceries on the counter.
“Hey!” the older gentleman behind me bellowed as she walked away. “You can’t just leave your stuff there!”
Suddenly, “nice,” “kind” and “polite” were taking a beating at the check-out stand.
“It’s OK, sir,” the checker said. “I can ring up the rest of you out while she’s gone.”
“What a joke!” the man muttered. Then he raised his voice a decibel or two. “If you don’t like the picture on a magazine, don’t look at it!”
A couple of others in the line growled their approval of his sentiment, which the young mother had to have heard as she stood at the counter not far away. She didn’t say anything in response – she just looked straight ahead, clutching the magazines.
“Well, I know how she feels,” the checker said softly as she scanned in the items I was purchasing. “I have kids too, and I always feel uncomfortable when they come here to see me and they have to walk by that rack.”
“I know,” I said. “I worry about my kids too. And my grandkids.”
“Give me a break,” the gentleman behind me said. He didn’t elaborate on what sort of a break he wanted to receive, but I think it was clearly understood by everyone within earshot. I glanced over at the young mother, who was passionately – but politely – pleading her case to the manager as she handed the stack of magazines over to him. As I was swiping my card to pay for my groceries she returned to where her things were on the counter.
“Hey, she goes to the back of the line,” the gentleman behind me said.
The checker looked at him directly. “No,” she said firmly. “She goes next.”
The young mother looked up at the checker and smiled weakly. “Thank you,” she said.
The checker ignored the glaring and gruffness of the older man and quickly scanned and bagged the few remaining items on the counter. “No,” she said, looking up at the young mother and smiling back . . . you know . . . kindly. “Thank YOU!”
As I left the store I found myself feeling hopeful. For all of my complaining about moral relativism in the world around me, it was good to know that there are still people who are willing to take a stand for something. And it inspired me to be one of them.
“Nice,” “kind” and “polite” notwithstanding.
— © Joseph Walker
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