Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On My Mind, Day 3: Be Kind

Today's topic may seem simple, but I feel like being kind is something worth talking about, especially with everything going on in our society today. Let me begin with a basic definition. According to my online dictionary, to be kind is to have or show a friendly, generous or considerate nature. I generally try to be kind to other people. There are times when I succeed and there are times when I know I can do better. That is probably true for all of us, to some degree.

This post is inspired by a conversation I had with Mark Johnson last night. We were talking about his day at work and he shared a story that really made me think about kindness. He has many roles at his company, but one of the things he is working on this week is to register new users who want to test out an advance version of their new app and provide feedback.

He was explaining to me how he spent his day trying to send confirmation e-mails and instructions to the people who registered to get them set up. And how disheartening it was to get so many negative responses from people. Everything from a one-word answer like "unsubscribe" coming from a person who had just registered for the service the day before, to other random comments delivered hastily, with no greeting or closure, and very little explanation of what the person needed.

Many people probably assume online registration and set-up is an automated process, but that is not always the case. It is funny how quick we are to respond brashly to what we think is a machine, when in fact there is a real person on the other end who has to read all of that stuff. The same is true for reviewing and responding to comments about the app, which is also part of Mark Johnson's job.

The most ironic thing about the whole situation is that Mark Johnson is one of the most kind and polite human beings I know. He is always patient, thoughtful and measured in his interactions and responses. Even when he gets frustrated, he doesn't take it out on other people. But last night, I could see that he was just a little beaten down by his interactions with the underbelly of humanity.

As he talked about how disheartening it felt to be on the receiving end of all that negative energy and sometimes outward hostility, I started to consider what role technology plays in the erosion of common courtesy in society. With everything coming at us so fast and furious, humans may often feel like we are under assault. And we defend ourselves with rapid fire e-mails and texts without even a second thought.

It is not that different from my experience working retail, although that is a face to face interaction, as opposed to online. Before I started working at Anthropologie, it was not uncommon for me to walk into a store and hear a voice coming from somewhere in my general vicinity saying "hello" or "welcome." Or maybe even giving me a rundown on all of the day's sales. Depending on my mood I might nod or give a quick acknowledgement to the person as I passed on by. But really all I wanted was to be left alone so I could shop.

Working retail has changed my attitude toward all of those sales people I encounter. Of course, there are still those people that are a little too aggressive for my taste (like my Dad would say about the sales people at Art Van furniture. He starts to cringe before he even walks in that place.) But for the most part, retail sales people are just doing their job.

I have had many experiences at Anthropologie where I will say hello to someone and they will walk by me like I am not even there. Of course, I try not to take it personally. And luckily there are many more positive interactions throughout the day to make up for it. Working the cash register is another challenge. When I was learning the cash register, there were some customers who were so impatient with me. I have a Master's degree, but to them I was just a clueless sales girl who couldn't get their return processed fast enough.

After years of trying to be perfect and being a superstar at my job, there is actually a part of me that is ok with the idea that there is a soccer Mom somewhere in Bay Village, Ohio who thinks I am a complete idiot. But I digress. Back to the topic of being kind.

I have learned through my experience working in retail to smile and say hello to the sales people that I encounter. And although I don't typically fire off rude e-mails, after hearing first hand about Mark Johnson's experience, I will try to be more sensitive in my online interactions as well.

As I was researching the word kind, I noticed something interesting in the definitions. The first definition that pops up isn't the one I am writing this blog about, the one about being friendly, generous and considerate. The first definition that comes up is a group of people or things having the same characteristics. As in the same kind of people. As in humankind.

Sometimes we forget that we are all a part of the same group. Just imagine how wonderful it would be if we could all recognize that simple fact and treat each other with kindness and compassion in all of our interactions.

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