Before I start segueing off in some unforeseeable direction as I tend to in these types of musings, I want to pose one serious question to you, my reader: What have you done recently to connect with a stranger?
To be specific, I'm not asking you whose random Instagram photo you double-tapped as you scrolled through image tags of cappuccino or breakfast burritos. While the art of unsolicited like-trading is indeed an intriguing aspect of today's social advances, I would personally argue that it contributes, for the most part, to individual image obsessions and our overall narcissism. And yeah, this world is tough. And no, building oneself up as one seeks to understand oneself on another level isn't entirely bad. But that is not my point.
Many of us have worked in sales and customer-service related positions at some prolonged point in our lives. Many more of us have only experienced this sort of work at a coffee shop on weekends at college. A good number of us have worked in retail settings, but have been fortunate enough to do this work in family-owned businesses, in cute boutiques and otherwise forgiving and overall enjoyable settings.
To some of us, working 40 hours a week at Target or at the McDonald's drive-thru is out of the question and will never be necessary. This is a form of privilege.
And while plenty of us are aware that the minimum wage (read: in the American south) and policies regarding the formation of unions are frequently unfair and place significant financial stress on those affected workers attempting to sustain some upward mobility in their lives and careers, it doesn't always prove so easy to show you care. If you're financially set and enrolled full-time in school, you just might forget that these sorts of struggles are ever-present in virtually city in this great nation. You might see yourself as a philanthropic individual. You go to church. You donated to Unicef twice this semester. What more do you really have to worry about, besides getting good grades?
Understand that the point of this essay is not to make you feel bad about yourself. Simply know that who you are -- you know, the image you project into your immediate surroundings -- does matter. The person behind the counter ringing up your items, doing last-minute price checks, and educating you on that particular store's saving programs has no awareness of your social media standing or how much money you donated to charity. No matter what discrepancies exist between their lifestyle and yours, they are still deserving of the most valuable form of respect in this modern age: face-to-face contact and plain, old-fashioned good manners.
As someone who is currently celebrating the freedom that is a hard-earned bachelor's degree by working behind one such counter (while freelancing in my field whenever I can), I can promise you that a genuine smile and a bit of personalized conversation can go a long way.
The holiday season can be an immensely stressful time for any of us. It often involves more waiting in line and one-on-one time with strangers than we subject ourselves to at any other time in the year. It's exhausting, I know. But it doesn't have to be all bad. You might even view this time of year as an opportunity to socialize in a way that been all but outdated in our digital age.
Try it the next time you run errands. Put down the cell phone for two minutes and refrain from making any judgment on who this person is or why they're working a job which you might consider below you. Because that truly is not your call to make. Look up -- make eye contact! -- and learn something new about your immediate, real-world surroundings. There's a good chance it will include another human being who is feeling just as stressed out and in need of a smile as you.