Did they take “civility” out of the dictionary?

After work today I had to pick up some prescription medicine. Our pharmacy has a drive-thru window, but it’s barely above zero today and I didn’t want to leave my car window open or the store’s window open while the transaction took place, not to mention leave my car running. So I parked my car and went into the store.

I was third in line at the counter to pick up prescriptions. (Actually, I was thrilled I was only third because lately there have been ugly lines at the pharmacy.) There were four employees (that I could see) behind the counter, and one of those stood at the ready to deal with customers at the drive-thru. Another employee was at the counter where people drop off prescriptions. And two employees were filling prescriptions. So while two of us customers stood in line inside the store politely waiting our turn, one transaction took place at the drive-thru. When that sale was completed, that employee stood and waited. There were no other customers at the drive-thru. Why couldn’t the woman working at the window come help the two of us standing in line? There was a second cash register she could have used. Instead the two of us in line grew to five in line before the first customer’s transaction was completed. But no one else drove up to the drive-thru window during that time.

When I was a teenager, I had a part-time job after school in retail. And I was trained that a customer in the store was much more valuable than a customer calling on the phone. How are retail employees trained today? Are they told to help the person in the drive-thru as quickly as possible? If you’re in your car trying to pick up medicine is your need more urgent than everyone who took the time to come into the store? Do stores really hire someone to stand at a window and watch clouds go by instead of assisting in-store customers?

Another question has been bothering me for an answer too. The home improvement store and the “big box” discount store near our home both have self-service checkouts. The last few times I’ve been in those stores, no matter the time of day, there was only one or two “regular” checkout lines staffed so everyone overflowed to the self-service lines. Calls for “all available associates to checkouts” didn’t bring anyone, or additional staff showed up so late (walking at a snail’s pace) that the swarm of customers was already through with their transactions, frustration and impatience showing on every single face as they headed out to their cars. I rarely use the self-service lines. I’d rather contribute to the need for a real person to have a job, not a computer.

And while I’m asking, where did workplace civility disappear to? The last three weeks have been particularly stressful where I work. Everyone has been dealing with challenges and deadlines. We’re all in it together, except many people can’t handle the stress and start using inappropriate language or they become bullies. I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate phrase that translates to, “Hey buddy, I’m stressed to the max too so stop yelling at me!” or “Quit pointing fingers at everyone else and do your own job!” On Friday I was given an electronic file for a project, but I quickly discovered the file was inaccurate and I could not use it. I sent it back to its owner and explained why I couldn’t use the file. He was frustrated (because he had other pressing deadlines) and grudgingly agreed to send me a revised file. It’s been a game of Round Robin for the last three days. This morning I received the fifth version of this file and still it was not useable. My deadline was on Monday, so now I’m three days late with my work and this guy decided to yell at me because his file is wrong. Excuse me?

For thirty-four months, from July 2008 to May 2011, I was out of a job. It was demoralizing, depressing, frustrating, and painful. I reached the darkest depths of despair and hopelessness in “my discernment.” It was a supreme test of my patience and an exercise in learning to accept that the only thing I can control is my attitude. Lately I’ve been wishing I could put that sentiment on a sign and wear or carry it with me wherever I go. There are a lot of people who need a little nudge about minding manners and showing courtesy to others.


Note to Self: Nurture

Over the weekend my daughter, Kate, shared a story about Eve, my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter. Kate’s husband had to work on Saturday, and Kate and Eve were spending the day at home. Kate had taken a slow approach to the day, so it was after lunch before she took a shower. Eve was playing quietly in the living room and watching a video when Kate left her, and when Kate returned, she found Eve asleep on the couch, all nicely tucked in with a pillow and a blanket, just as Eve’s baby dolls were tucked in on the other side of the couch. I commented on how smart Eve was to realize she needed to be nurtured with as much love and devotion as she shows her baby dolls, and that some of us take a lifetime to learn that lesson.

Since then, my mind keeps going back to the concept of nurturing self. As mothers, we often place ourselves at the end of the line. We feed our kids and husbands before we feed ourselves. If we’re smart and have structure, we’ll put our kids to bed at (nearly) the same time each night so that they get a good night’s sleep, and yet we often keep ourselves up much too late trying to catch up on laundry or dishes or paying bills or whatever. We struggle with saying “no” to our children no matter the issue, wanting to satisfy our child’s every want and need, but often sacrificing our own needs in the process.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have a wealth of knowledge on the concept of nature vs. nurture, but it seems to me that we must be taught to nurture. Maybe it’s intrinsic, but I think we need to have that behavior modeled for us if we are to be good at it. And so it follows, that my daughter Kate has been an excellent model and/or teacher to Eve. I am awed by the fact that this little girl, just a few short months ago considered a toddler, understood she was tired and nurtured herself with love and care. And I am incredibly proud that my own child has grown to be a loving mother, wise enough to model such things to her child.

In so many ways life comes full circle, and this story is another example of that. My sweet granddaughter Eve reminded me that sometimes we need to nurture ourselves. And it came at a very poignant moment in my life. Thank you, Eve.

Mothering and…wife-ing?

Even when I was in high school, long before I was a mother, I had strong mothering instincts. Some of my friends would tease and call me Mom when I showed concern. I really didn’t think I was over the top about it all. I just cared about my friends. I guess it reflects the fact that while it might take me a very long time to finally “friend” someone, I stay friends forever. So those friends from high school—one of them posted a message on Facebook earlier this week informing his followers that he was on a mission trip in Nicaragua, was bit by a stray dog, and had eight puncture wounds and a laceration on his leg. He went on to write how he tried in vain to find a medical “facility” and that he ended up in a “clinic” where the nurse gave him a tetanus shot and told him to go home to the States and get to a doctor.

Fortunately for my friend, he was headed home anyway but not for a couple of days. He managed to get some antibiotics and made a call stateside and was told by his regular doctor to go to the ER immediately upon landing in the U.S. His Facebook posting tonight says he’s halfway home. What is the proper protocol for something like that? I added him to my list of prayers, offered to make a phone call if he needed that, and sat back for updates. Nothing more I could do. But he’s been on my mind. He’s a single guy, on solitary mission work in an area of extreme poverty, thousands of miles from home. He’s a friend. And I care. Hard to let go of that.

In contrast to that scenario, I’m trying in vain to mother my 19-year-old daughter who has decided to officially drop out of high school and who wants nothing to do with me when I act as her mother. And I’m struggling painfully to be a wife to my husband who really wants a personal assistant who will cook his meals, do his laundry—essentially be a mother to him (but don’t anyone call it that!!). Perhaps the better and more acceptable term is wife-ing.

My daughter and my husband. I love them. And yet, I need to let go. I have no more control over my 19-year-old than I do my 60-something husband. In a moment of extreme frustration my daughter will yell at me and tell me she was in my life first and I should love her more, which translates to “give me everything I want as soon as I want it and don’t make me work for it.” When my husband is at his worst, he yells at me to take a stand, kick my daughter out on the street, and by the way get on with making his supper. Oh, and he’s out of clean socks.

Mothering instincts, by nature, are incredibly strong and cannot be stilled. The real challenge is in learning how to turn and twist and deflect all that mothering in such a way as to mother my self. It is long past time. And yes, easier said than done.

Some days I feel the challenge is as difficult as trying to reroute the great Mississippi river. Today is one such day.

Dealing with Difficult People

Several years ago I attended a workshop on dealing with difficult people. At the time I was an elected official, and there were a couple of “regulars” who attended our meetings and who questioned every decision we made. I thought attending the workshop would offer me tips in dealing with such people. After all, that was the name of the workshop. But the facilitator had a different perspective. She turned the tables and advised that dealing with difficult people means we must look at ourselves and our attitudes. The difficult person is not “them” but “me.” I was quite disappointed in the workshop and frustrated that I walked away with no new ideas for facing challenging individuals. And yet, that facilitator’s message has stayed with me all these years. So perhaps I took away more from that lesson than I thought at the time.

About four years ago I found myself on the hunt for a job and attended weekly “transition group” meetings. Nearly every week, and sometimes more than once a meeting, we were reminded that the only thing we can control in a job search is our attitude. A very similar message to the one I heard in that long ago workshop. This one stuck as well.

When I have a particularly frustrating or challenging day at work, my thoughts always drift to these two concepts and I have to ask myself, Am I being the difficult person? Does my attitude need an adjustment?

At precisely 10:30 this morning, I asked myself both of those questions. I had just finished facilitating a weekly meeting on project schedules and two of the people in attendance do not like being held accountable to schedules. Okay, most of us don’t like having to follow schedules but most of us understand the value of schedules and we try more often to meet a schedule than miss it. I have been working with these two individuals for nearly two years and neither has met a single schedule during that time. Today was the deadline for one of these people and the other person’s deadline of Monday is fast approaching. I admit I asked some tough questions, such as How much extra time do you need? and Are you willing to designate a day/time when we hand off the project whether it’s finished or not? Neither of the project owners liked those questions. One voiced a complaint saying, “this discussion is pointless.” And that, my friends, was the moment I felt my blood boil.

In that moment, I wasn’t a professional sitting alongside another professional trying to collaborate and reach agreement. Instead feelings of frustration and rage started bubbling up, making me feel like a mother dealing with the teenager who once again missed the bus for school, or forgot homework at home, or misunderstood the time for curfew. I wanted to ask these two professionals, What will it take to get you to meet one deadline? Do you understand what the title “project owner” means? And, the real teaser, How much longer do you plan to work here?

Of course, I didn’t voice any of those questions. And I didn’t let my boiling blood escape my body. I might have raised my eyebrows or sat up at attention in my chair. My voice might have become a little clipped. But I kept a professional demeanor and wrapped up the meeting. I went back to my desk and took several deep breaths and debated leaving the building for a long lunch. I didn’t leave. I hunkered down and got through the day.

Tonight, as this challenging day comes up for review in my thoughts, I wonder, do I have too great of expectations that these two project owners will someday hold themselves accountable? Do I need to look passed these two individuals and focus instead on company executives who allow unaccountability to thrive? Or, do I need to ask myself, Am I being the difficult one?

Dear Pastor:

You and I have never met and I am not a member of your congregation. I recently attended a memorial service for David Anderson that you officiated, and I was so impressed that I felt the need to send you this letter.

One of my daughters is a close friend of David’s brother, Jacob. David had been to our home a few times in the last few years and I knew him to be a kind and caring person, struggling to find his way in today’s world. Like so many other young adults, he didn’t always make good choices but, in my mind, that didn’t make him any less of a person than anyone else. Unfortunately, most adults are not so open minded and accepting of our struggling youth.

In the days leading up to the memorial service, I prepared my daughter for a sad and dreary service. I completely expected traditional hymns, scripture readings that tried to answer unanswerable questions, and spoken words of how sometimes our poor choices cause permanent harm. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised to find a memorial service that truly was a celebration of David’s life and not a condemnation.

From the moment my daughter and I entered the church, we were warmly greeted by volunteers who helped guide my teenage daughter through the protocols of such a service. Because of their compassionate greeting and encouragement, she immediately felt at ease—something I wasn’t sure would be possible. I am certain it was their reception of her that allowed her to find the courage to approach Joan and Jacob before the service and express her condolences.

We moved into the sanctuary just as the band began playing and my daughter instantly felt at home. It was music (language) she understood. She smiled and commented on how David would have liked the music a lot.

As a parent, I watched as the church filled with many young adults dressed in their unique style. I wondered how many of them regularly attend church, how many of them are turned off by religious rules that ask them to conform to the rest of society. I listened as you talked about not ever having met David, and yet your words spoke of acceptance of him as a “character” and you seemed to express a sense of curiosity, as if you would have liked to have known this 23-year-old who touched so many lives. The respect you showed David in that moment was something I will carry with me for a very long time. You truly honored David and celebrated his life. Thank you.

Thank you for being open minded and willing to accept someone who was not in the mainstream. Thank you for showing my daughter and all the other young adults in the sanctuary that church can be a welcoming, accepting, and comforting place. Thank you for respecting the sanctity of a life lived, without passing judgment.

As the service came to a close, I wondered if any of the young adults attending were moved enough to have their spiritual awareness awakened. I pray you will be rewarded and some of those young adults will return to you another day.

Thank you for your dedication and your service to us all.

Kindest regards,