The other day, a homeless man came in to the bookstore where I work. He settled in to a chair, and started looking through the shelves. I asked if I could help him find something, and he said yes, he was trying to figure out ways to make his diet healthier while homeless, since it was really hard for him to have a balanced meal. We went through a few book ideas, and found a couple of possibilities.
He thanked me. And then thanked me again. For not pretending he was invisible, or escorting him from the store. For treating him like a human being. He said our store was always great, letting him get cleaned up in the washroom, letting him stay as long as he wanted. He told me that he used to be a teacher, but circumstances had left him homeless. He was so happy, just because someone had been willing to have a conversation with him, treat him like a person.
He made my day.
And then there was the couple who came in, having issues with their e-reader. The return date had passed, with us, and it was now under manufacturer’s warranty. I offered to try to help them solve the issue, but they refused. They yelled about customer support at the e-reader company. They yelled at me, yelled at my manager. There was swearing. Everything we tried to say, they talked over. Apparently they were having an issue with their treadmill, that was our fault too. We were thieves, it was a conspiracy. We were horrible people who were knowingly selling bad products.
They ruined my day.
The contrast between these two encounters is ridiculous. The homeless man was the soul of courtesy. The well-off couple were horrible. Why do people feel they can treat retail workers like dirt? I can’t imagine someone behaving this way at a bank, but maybe they’re horrible there, too. I’m not sure what lesson to take from all this. If my kids behaved like that couple did, they would be in deep, deep trouble.
With other customers, I have taken hours to try to help them with issues they’ve been having with their e-readers, or to teach them how to use them. I like helping people. That couple, though, I will not exactly be going out of my way to help. I’m guessing if I told them that, it would just be one more reason to shout at me.
Obviously, courtesy and respect are not tied to your bank balance. The upstanding citizen? The homeless man.